Fat is a much maligned element of the modern diet. High-fat, Low-fat, Fat-free – which way to go? Here are some common sense observations from Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.
Fat (especially unsaturated fat) is part of a healthy dietary pattern. If you have a fear of fats, try these tips:
-Include healthy fats from reasonable quantities of vegetable oils, nuts, fish, and avocados
-Avoid “reduced-fat” foods high in refined carbohydrates and added sugars
-Limit red and processed meats, butter, and tropical oils
-Strive for a balanced diet that includes (healthy) fats, (mainly unrefined) carbohydrates, and protein (from sources other than red and processed meats)
Not all Fats are Created Equal: “Cutting back on total dietary fat removed beneficial fats from our diets along with harmful fats,” says Lichtenstein. Unsaturated fats (especially polyunsaturated) can actually have a positive impact on health. The 2015 DGA sites “strong and consistent evidence” that replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated is associated with lower blood levels of total and LDL-cholesterol, as well as lower risk of heart attack.
A recent American Heart Association advisory, written by Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, a member of that committee who is now a senior scientist at Tufts’ HNRCA and executive editor of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter and colleagues and published in the journal Circulation, analyzed a number of studies examining what happens when people replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat.
Several studies, including the Oslo Diet-Heart Study and studies conducted at the Veterans Administration center in Los Angeles, provided evidence that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat lowers the risk of heart attack, stroke, and angina. The authors of the advisory concluded that replacing foods high in saturated fat like butter, meat, and coconut oil with polyunsaturated fat-rich vegetable oils such as soybean and corn oils could lower rates of CVD by about 30 percent. Replacing foods high in saturated fat with monounsaturated-rich vegetable oils such as canola and olive oils was found to be associated with a 15 percent lower rate of CVD.
Some ways to replace foods high in saturated fats with foods high in polyunsaturated fat include using vegetable oils instead of butter, choosing fish over red meat, snacking on a handful of nuts instead of pretzels, and using vegetable oil-based salad dressings rather than cream- or cheese-based dressings.
“When making dietary choices, aim to increase foods rich in healthy fats, like nuts, plant oils, avocados, and fish,” says Mozaffarian, “and reduce foods high in refined starch and sugar.” It’s also important not to make food decisions on the basis of fat content alone. Most foods contain more than one kind of fat, often packaged with other macronutrients, micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and, in the case of plant foods, phytochemicals and fiber. “Remember,” says Lichtenstein, “when it comes to good nutrition (including fats) it’s all about balance.”