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Good Fats vs. Bad Fats: what do you need?

Mar. 25, 2014|216 views

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For decades doctors have cautioned against eating saturated fat, which was believed to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in beef, pork, cheese, and butter. As it turns out, evidence for the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease is much weaker than originally thought. Recently, new research made headlines in the national press. Investigators concluded that saturated fat is not as bad for the heart as we’ve been led to believe. 

But that’s not to say you should load up on ribeye steak smothered in butter. A diet that features more polyunsaturated fats (the kind you get from plants) rather than saturated fats, is still thought to be more healthful. That’s because the Mediterranean diet, which features primarily polyunsaturated fats from extra virgin oil, nuts, avocados and fish, is inherently healthier than any other dietary pattern. It’s also low in saturated fat.

It’s true that saturated fat can increase one’s cholesterol levels, but researchers have discovered it’s not as simple as “higher cholesterol means greater disease risk.” Saturated fat boosts both LDL and HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is beneficial, and the form of so-called “bad” LDL that can be attributed to dietary saturated fat is actually not so bad. It’s a lighter, puffier variety, which is less likely to be transformed (oxidized) into truly bad cholesterol. 

What really raises the worst form of LDL cholesterol is…wait for it: sugar and other simple carbohydrates. Of course, I’ve been saying most of this all along. This latest research simply confirms that message: Eat mostly plant foods, lean protein, fish, nuts, extra virgin olive oil, dairy and whole grains. Enjoy your food, but keep it whole and organic. And enjoy a steak once in a while if that’s your thing. We now know it won’t clog your arteries. Just skip the potato chips. 

Rajiv Chowdhury, Samantha Warnakula, Setor Kunutsor, Francesca Crowe, Heather A. Ward, Laura Johnson, Oscar H. Franco, Adam S. Butterworth, Nita G. Forouhi, Simon G. Thompson, Kay-Tee Khaw, Dariush Mozaffarian, John Danesh, Emanuele Di Angelantonio; Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary RiskA Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014 Mar;160(6):398-406.

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