Time to rethink everything you know about saturated fat

'The Big Fat Surprise'
'The Big Fat Surprise'
Book cover courtesy of publisher

If you try to keep up with the latest in dieting trends and studies, you're likely juggling a lot of conflicting information about fats. In the new book "The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat & Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet," journalist Nina Teicholz looks at how the American diet is mired in politics, old studies and complacency.

"Nutrition science is a blood sport," Teicholz told The Daily Beast. "When the science is weak, it's all about the politics."

When Americans dropped foods high in fat, replacement foods caused other problems.

From The Wall Street Journal:

One consequence is that in cutting back on fats, we are now eating a lot more carbohydrates--at least 25% more since the early 1970s. Consumption of saturated fat, meanwhile, has dropped by 11%, according to the best available government data. Translation: Instead of meat, eggs and cheese, we're eating more pasta, grains, fruit and starchy vegetables such as potatoes. Even seemingly healthy low-fat foods, such as yogurt, are stealth carb-delivery systems, since removing the fat often requires the addition of fillers to make up for lost texture--and these are usually carbohydrate-based.

The problem is that carbohydrates break down into glucose, which causes the body to release insulin--a hormone that is fantastically efficient at storing fat...

The second big unintended consequence of our shift away from animal fats is that we're now consuming more vegetable oils. Butter and lard had long been staples of the American pantry until Crisco, introduced in 1911, became the first vegetable-based fat to win wide acceptance in U.S. kitchens. Then came margarines made from vegetable oil and then just plain vegetable oil in bottles.

Teicholz and Dr. Steve Nissen of the Cleveland Clinic join The Daily Circuit to talk us through the latest research on saturated fat and explain just where our dietary notions went wrong.


Scientists Fix Errors in Controversial Paper About Saturated Fats
Critics also pointed out two important studies on omega-6 fatty acids that the authors had missed. The errors "demonstrate shoddy research and make one wonder whether there are more that haven't been detected," writes Jim Mann, a researcher at the University of Otago, Dunedin, in New Zealand, writes in an e-mail. "If I had been the referee I would have recommended rejection." (Science Magazine)

The Greatest Dietary Guidance? If It Gets Cold, Reheat It!
Ancel Keys was not wrong -- he was exploited by the collusion of Big Food, and our prevailing gullibility. Keys compared diets natively rich in plant foods and diets natively rich in meat, butter and cheese -- and recommendations resulted from the differences in health he observed. He never suggested that we should start eating Snackwell cookies -- but that is how our culture interpreted advice to eat less fat. Of course health doesn't improve when you replace one way of eating fairly badly with another way of eating at least as badly. (Huffington Post)

Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good
As a general rule, it's a good idea to keep your intake of saturated fats as low as possible. We can't eliminate saturated fat from our diets completely, because foods that are good sources of healthy fats--olive oil, walnuts, salmon--also contain a little bit of saturated fat. And it would be a mistake to cut back on nuts, oils, and fish to minimize saturated fat. When you add it up, red meat and full-fat dairy products (cheese, milk, ice cream, butter) are among the main sources of saturated fat in our diets. So keeping these foods low is the best way to reduce intake of saturated fat. And when you cut back on red meat and dairy products, replace them with foods that contain healthy fats--fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds, plant oils, avocadoes--not with foods that are high in refined carbohydrates. (Harvard)

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