Saturated fat has been getting some good press lately. Recent articles in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported new studies showing that eating saturated fats (meat, dairy and eggs) actually do not increase your risk of heart disease, and that diets low in saturated fat do not protect you from heart disease. Just this June, a cover story by TIME magazine featured a photo of a thick curly slice of butter and the headline “Eat Butter. Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.”
Are you confused yet? My mentor, Dr. Pam Popper has a saying: ”People love to hear good news about their bad habits.” So before you run out and order that bacon cheeseburger, read on!
Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. For years, the American Heart Association has recommended limiting saturated fat intake to as little as 5% of total calories, based ongoing research since the 1950’s. But if the AHA has been wrong, and if saturated fat and cholesterol are not the culprit, what is? Could it be the totality of our diet and lifestyle, and not a singular cause?
TIME magazine reported that since 1970, we have been getting 3% fewer calories from vegetables, 29% fewer calories from beef and 78% fewer calories from milk. But calories from high fructose corn syrup have increased 8,553% and added fats and oils (primarily from processed foods, bottled salad dressings and snacks) are up 67%. Chicken consumption increased by 112%. (Chicken has an undeserved reputation for being a healthier choice…more on that in a future post.)
So we replaced beef, butter and eggs with chicken, processed foods made with high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils and fake butter, all the while stubbornly refusing to eat our veggies. Only 1.5% of Americans eat more than five servings of fruit and veggies per day. However, eating lots of green vegetables, legumes and whole starches has proven in study after study to protect against heart disease.
Dr. Frank Hu is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. In The New York Times article, he said that looking at individual fats and other nutrient groups in isolation could be misleading, because when people cut down on fats they tend to eat more bread, cold cereal and other refined carbohydrates that can also be bad for cardiovascular health.
And that is exactly what has happened. Remember SnackWells cookies? No fat! But loaded with sugar. While America gobbled up these low fat goodies, the rate of diabetes skyrocketed – according to the American Diabetes Association, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3% of the population, had diabetes in 2012. Sugar is the new fat.
To again quote Dr. Hu, “I think future dietary guidelines will put more and more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.” I agree, and so does the credible research. Good nutrition is less about macronutrients – fat, protein and carbohydrates – and more about micronutrients, which are what make broccoli, tomatoes and kale so good for you.
Make sure your fats are in whole food form – nuts, seeds and avocados. “Real” whole food, primarily plants (not from a plant!) free of dairy and added oils, and limiting animal foods to 2-3 times per week has been shown to decrease your risk of all diseases, including cancer and heart disease. And you’ll feel better, too!
Whole, by T. Colin Campbell, PhD
Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, Caldwell Esselstyn, MD
Food Over Medicine, by Dr. Pamela A. Popper