While nutritionists have long praised the good fat in avocados, olive oil,
and nuts, they've universally recommended avoiding food high in its
stepsister, saturated fat. Because saturated fat can raise levels of bad
cholesterol (LDL), it's been thought to increase your risk of heart
disease. Yet while some studies supported this association, the findings
were far from conclusive—and may not have taken into account
other dietary factors (like the potentially negative effect refined carbs can
have on the heart) or the fact that saturated fat can actually raise good
Still, the idea stuck: Sat fat is bad fat. But now emerging research is
shedding new light on the debate. A scientific review of studies
involving more than 600,000 people, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine earlier this year, found no significant
link between dietary saturated fat and heart disease—suggesting
that we don't, in fact, need to shun foods like red meat, butter, and
whole milk for our heart's sake. But before you go hog-wild,
here's what you should know about popular fatty foods.
Photo: Monkey Business/360/Thinkstock
There's a difference between unprocessed meat—like beef,
lamb and pork—and the processed varieties that include sausage,
bacon and lunch meat.After analyzing 20 studies, Harvard researchers
found that while eating one 3.5-ounce serving or more of red meat daily
wasn't associated with a higher risk of heart disease, consuming
just 1.8 ounces of processed meat (the equivalent of about two slices of
bologna) a day was associated with a 42 percent increased risk. The main
culprit might not be the saturated fat after all, but rather the high amounts
of sodium (which can raise blood pressure) and preservatives (which may
promote arterial hardening) in processed meat.
Eat Smart: Sticking to one to two servings of red meat per week
shouldn't have a major impact on your health if you eat well the rest
of the time, says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, an associate professor at the
Harvard School of Public Health and coauthor of the
Annals of Internal Medicine study.
But he recommends consuming most of your protein from sources
proved to be beneficial, like nuts and fish rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
Photo: Miles Higgins/iStock/360/Thinkstock
While full-fat milk contains 66 more calories and four more grams of
saturated fat per cup than nonfat milk, skim might not mean slim.
A study of more than 19,000 middle-aged women found that consuming
one serving or more of whole milk a day appeared to protect against weight
gain over the course of about nine years, while drinking low-fat milk had
no effect. "The extra fat in whole milk is satiating,
and it's possible that we may get fuller on less," says Mario Kratz,
PhD, a nutritional scientist at the University of Washington.
Eat Smart: Portions still matter, so drink no more than three cups
of whole milk per day (the total recommended daily dairy intake).
And consider going organic; one study found it can contain a heart-healthier
mix of fatty acids, including omega-3s.
Butter and lard (pork fat) are back in favor as natural, minimally processed
sources of fat (as opposed to, say, margarine). Lard is actually lower in
saturated fat than butter and contains double the amount of heart-healthy
monounsaturated fatty acids.
Eat Smart: Still consume these spreads in small serving sizes
(a couple of teaspoons over steamed broccoli, for example) and within a
healthy, whole-food-based diet.
Could Gouda be good for you? A 2012 study looked at total dairy
consumption in eight European countries and found that on average,
people who ate about two ounces or more cheese daily had a 12 percent
lower risk of developing diabetes compared with those who consumed it
sparingly. One hypothesis is that when cheese is fermented, it produces
good bacteria that may help reduce cholesterol.
Eat Smart: Cheese often keeps very unhealthy company,
like fast food burgers and takeout pizza, so aim to include it alongside
healthier fare. And keep in mind that not all cheese is created equal:
Swiss is naturally low in sodium, and Parmesan is high in protein,
while feta and blue cheese are so big in flavor that a little can go a long way.