It appears that when people talk about healthy eating they will eventually lead to a discussion about fat. Discussing whether fat is good or bad is often a polarizing and confusing topic.
This article will try to summarize some of the evidence that is now available to answer a most often asked question about fat, is saturated fat healthy or not?
What seems to have fueled a lot of interest in recent fat studies is whether or not saturated fat is associated with cardiovascular risk and heart disease. If a study showed that saturated fat is not associated with heart disease then a person may conclude that saturated fat is healthy, correct? However, is that really true?
The short and simple answer to that question is no.
When you reduce saturated fat in your diet without considering what to replace it with you may find yourself in a situation where you are missing an important part of the equation.
The Evidence on Saturated Fats
Recent evidence from the Heart Foundation discovered that important personal change and energy must be considered when you evaluate the relationship between a good healthy diet and fat.
What exactly does that mean? When you change the quantity of a particular nutrient necessary for energy, such as what you would find in saturated fats, then there will be an energy change from other nutrients to another in your diet.
For example, if you decrease the amount of saturated fat in your diet it will provide you with less energy and therefore you will need to increase the proportion of energy from other foods and sources.
Choosing the Right Alternatives
The other sources that you choose for energy are therefore extremely important. There is a lot of beneficial evidence that shows that when you reduce a saturated fat and replace it with unsaturated fat it will definitely improve your cardiovascular risk factors and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease.
If you replace saturated fats with whole grains, on the other hand, you will show some improvement in regards to the reduction of risk for heart disease and cardiovascular risk factors but it will not be the same as if you chose an unsaturated fat. Likewise, if you replace saturated fats with refined carbohydrates then you will not reduce the risk of heart disease or improve cardiovascular risks.
It should be noted, that trans fats as a replacement will also add to your risk of heart disease and cardiovascular issues. The bottom line is that saturated fat is preferred to unsaturated fat. Both of these type of fats are preferred to trans-fat. Wholegrain foods are also preferred to refined carbohydrates. What does it all mean?
It simply means that changing your saturated fat intake without considering its replacement is not enough. There are many studies that prove it would be better to change a saturated fat diet to one that includes whole-grains and unsaturated fats. It is a matter of improving your entire eating pattern and not simply altering only one area so that you can improve and promote cardiovascular health.
The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation, the New Zealand Heart Foundation, the American Heart Association, and the Heart foundation all recommend that a person shift their diet from one that contains saturated fats to one that contains very little unsaturated fats.
All of these associations agree with this shift so as to maintain a healthy eating pattern.
If you’re struggling with how to eat healthy, there are plenty of resources out there that can help, including programs like Nutrisystem (read our review), or even books on heart-health diets, like the Mediterranean Diet. Either way, if any of this seems confusing or overwhelming, then it’s a good idea to seek out professional resources to help you get on the right track.
What About Omega-6?
When it comes to the fat in omega-6, a person may wonder whether this type of fat is beneficial? There have been claims that omega-6 increases the risk of heart disease and promotes inflammation.
Therefore, should we eliminate omega-6 fats from our diet? The simple answer to that question is no. From evidence gathered in recent studies it appears that omega-6 is an essential fat that should not be avoided.
Omega-6 is a type of fat that a person’s body cannot make naturally. It therefore needs to be absorbed from the diet so that a deficiency is avoided. The human body can make monounsaturated fat, cholesterol, and saturated fat and therefore they are not considered essential fatty acids.
There are many studies that show that there is a link between lower risk of heart disease and the intake of omega-6. For example, one study showed that by increasing omega-6 by only 5% it will result in a lowering of the risk of having heart disease by 9%. The same study also shows that this increase would provide a 13% lower risk from having a heart disease fatality.
Where to Get Omega-6
Some excellent sources of omega-6 include seeds, nuts sesame oil, sunflower oil, sunflower oil, canola oil and to a lesser degree, olive oil. It should be noted, however, that omega-6 may also be found in many unhealthy foods such as cakes, takeout foods, and biscuits.
Butter or No Butter?
Another key controversy in regards to fats is the issue about butter. Many people wonder if butter is a better choice because it is less processed. You will often see advertisements proclaiming the benefits of butter and stating that “butter is better.” The question that a person may want to ask at this point is whether butter is better or not?
Butter is not a health food and the evidence shows that it is made from 4% trans-fat and 50% saturated fat. Butter, unlike other oils like canola and olive, will raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels.
One of the key risk factors for heart disease is bad cholesterol. True, many studies show that there is a relatively small risk of serious cardiovascular disease or mortality when using butter.
However, similar studies show that when you compare butter to other fats that are found in legumes, healthy oils, fish, fruits, and nuts then you may discover a stark contrast.
Producers of dairy products, including butter, will stand by butter’s perceived status as a product that is natural in comparison to alternatives such as margarine. They will claim that the key issue is the degree of processing.
However, processed foods are not necessarily unhealthy. Processing is a simple procedure where a food receives a deliberate change to make it available to consumers.
For example, vegetables can be canned or frozen, which is a form of processing, but they still are considered to be healthy.
There is no doubt that a better alternative to butter would be avocados, olive oil, or tahini. Some may also include coconut oil in this list because it has 92% saturated fat. It should be noted however that coconut oil, like butter, is not a health food. Health foods receive a “health food status” because they are proven to promote health.
Some examples would include nuts, fruits, legumes, and vegetables.
This now brings us to the question about other dairy products. Should a person try to reduce the amount of dairy products that they are currently including in their diet? This will lead us to a very common question about selecting only dairy products that have a reduced fat milk content.
Once again, the simple answer to this question is that yogurt, cheese, milk, and other dairy products are a healthy snack alternative. They should however be eaten in moderation and along with fruit, whole-grains, or vegetables.
The Rules on Low-Fat Dairy
Always try to choose dairy products that have reduced fat levels and that do not have any extra added flavors or sugar. Like other foods, such as poultry and eggs, dairy products are not associated with heart disease or cardiovascular risk. Nevertheless, though dairy products will not increase the risk they also do not decrease the risk such as you will find with fruits, nuts, and legumes.
Therefore, you can include yogurt, cheese, and milk in a healthy eating pattern. These 3 dairy products may be included in moderation. Please however, limit your intake of other dairy products such as cream, butter, or any other high-fat dairy products.
In conclusion, it is relatively simple to sort out fat from fiction. First of all, it is important to realize that your entire eating pattern is important for a healthy heart as opposed to worrying about one ingredient over another.
Trans fat should be avoided at all costs and if you have an option to choose unsaturated fat over saturated fat then you should do so.
Various Heart Foundations throughout the world have formulated excellent healthy eating principles that will help you to achieve the perfect balance of fats.
However, it is your responsibility to do what is right for your own body and therefore you may need to spend some time investigating some of the issues that we have discussed previously.
Two healthy heart diets that you may want to consider are the Dash and Mediterranean diets. These two very successful and well proven diets have broken it down into five basic principles:
eat mostly whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.
Choose healthy protein that can be found in lean meat, poultry, fish, seafood, seeds, nuts, and legumes.
Reduce the amount of fat dairy that you consume.
Choose healthy fat choices such as olives, avocados, seeds, and nut.
Instead of adding salt to your food consider various spices and herbs to enhance the flavor.
Ben Corbin brings more than 20 years of experience as a health and wellness author and writer. He holds a master’s degree, has a passion for health and fitness, and is driven to provide readers with accurate and honest information. Learn more about Ben and the DadQuarters mission at our About page.