The Heart of the Matter: Saturated Fats

February 20, 2013

Valentine’s Day may be a day of hearts, but the entire month of February honors the heart – Heart Health, that is.  For years, we have been told to avoid saturated fats to prevent heart disease. You know the fats…Pralines and Cream, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, soft Brie cheese, filet mignon with bacon wrap, golden seasoned skin on rotisserie chicken, creamy butter on your baked potato and the list goes on. But a recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is questioning that same advice. Based on their results, “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.” And furthermore, restricting fat intake too severely can lead to a whole different set of chronic health problems.

The news rocked the nutrition world, but before you run out to get a double scoop with extra whipped cream, take a closer look. Saturated fats are found in foods like whole milk, cheese, beef, poultry and pork, and we know that too much saturated fat can “sit” in our heart arteries, and potentially lead to heart disease. But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, so to speak! Avoiding all forms of saturated fats is out of context, and takes the advice too far because these same foods can have equal amounts of heart healthy fats.

Some saturated fats can be enjoyed in moderation.

Some saturated fats can be enjoyed in moderation.

And trying to avoid all saturated fats usually leads to eating too many low fat-foods full of sugars and high-fructose corn syrup, and processed foods too high in trans fats. What is a trans fat? It’s a chemically altered version of a heart healthy oil, which has been hardened in the manufacturing process – a hardening that leads to hardening of the arteries if eaten too much.

Remember when the egg got all the blame when someone’s cholesterol level was too high? Come to find out, the “sterol” in the egg isn’t all chole’sterol’ but a combination of different sterols – some good ones that do NOT raise your body’s cholesterol level. So eggs have come back into favor.  Looks like we are now heading that way in terms of saturated animal fats, too.  Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats? Avoid those guys, but saturated fats that occur naturally in cheeses, milk products, butter and red meats? Sounds like we can enjoy these in moderation – control your portions, and saturated fats from whole, natural foods can fit into your health lifestyle.


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