Quinn on Nutrition: The skinny on fats

October 26, 2015

Remember the headlines a few years ago that announced "butter is back"? Hold on to your churn, grandma. According to the latest research from Harvard School of Public Health, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

These scientists looked at health outcomes for more than 84,000 women and almost 43,000 men over a 30-year period to see how dietary fats and carbohydrates were associated with the development of coronary heart disease (the buildup of plaque inside of arteries).

What they found confirmed what we knew: Saturated fat — the main type of fat in butter and other high-fat dairy foods and meats — is associated with an increased risk for heart disease. And unsaturated fats — mono- and poly-unsaturated fats found primarily in vegetable oils — are associated with a decreased risk.

Cutting back on saturated fat does not appear to be the whole story, however. These researchers also clarified what we should or should not be eating in place of saturated fat. People who ate the healthier unsaturated fats (such as those found in nuts, avocados and vegetable oils) in place of saturated fat had a decreased risk for heart disease. A decreased risk was also found when whole grains were substituted for saturated fats in the diet.

No decreased risk was found, however, when saturated fat was replaced with refined carbohydrates (such as substituting jam on toast in place of butter). This may partially explain why the low-fat, high-carb trends of the 1980s and 1990s were not effective in reducing heart disease risk, say these researchers.

Still confused? Here’s how these findings translate to real food:

— Most of the time, choose as your fat of choice one that originated from a plant. Olive, canola and other vegetable-based oils are good go-to cooking fats.

— Eat solid fats (butter and visible fat on meat) less often and in smaller portions. Trim visible fat from your meat. Add a bit of butter for flavor only.

— Don’t kid yourself by loading up on sugar in place of fat. Saturated fat and refined carbohydrates seem to be similarly unhealthful, say experts.

— Strive to get at least three servings of a whole grain food into your daily diet. Examples of what constitutes a serving include 3 cups popped popcorn (hold the extra butter, please), one slice of whole grain bread and one corn tortilla.

Remember, too, that no one food is all saturated fat or all unsaturated fat. Beef, for example, is 50 percent saturated and 50 percent healthful unsaturated. Olive oil is 15 percent saturated and 85 percent unsaturated.

Be cautious about how much and how often you eat "grain-based desserts." That’s nutrition code for all those delectable holiday desserts whose main ingredients are flour, sugar and butter. This category of food is a major source of solid fats and added sugars that hurt our hearts, say nutrition experts.




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