For the past 50 years, we’ve been told that saturated fats increase our risk of cardiovascular disease, a view that has been adopted by organizations ranging from Health Canada and the American Heart Association through to the World Health Organization.
Today, research has emerged suggesting that this may be an oversimplified view, and that different types of saturated fatty acids in fact affect blood cholesterol in different ways.
It may come as a surprise that not all fats are bad for you. For example, stearic acid, a fatty acid found in beef, is known to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. The consumption of eggs, a significant source of dietary cholesterol (170mg per egg), has not been correlated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events in the context of primary prevention.
On the other hand, it is well established that Trans Fatty Acids are known to unfavourably elevate LDL cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. As a result, since 2006 government bodies have regulated food manufacturers requiring them to reduce their use of modified fats in items such as margarines and baked goods to bring estimated intake to 3.5 grams/day. Critics argue this does not go far enough and suggest Canada should ban trans-fat altogether to match US action taken in 2013.
When it comes to fats, marketing programs often confuse the facts on what drives optimal health. For instance, in the 1990’s an abundance of marketing hype surrounding fat-free foods cultivated the perception that healthy eating meant avoiding all types of fats, all the time. “Fat-free” bagels, cereal, jelly beans and even cooking spray soon appeared on the market without regard to food quality or quantity.
While it is not always clear which fatty acids serve our health best, evidence suggests that a diet higher in protein and fat largely derived from plant-based and unsaturated sources such as nuts, avocado, olive and canola oil, results in fewer cardiovascular risks compared to a diet higher in carbohydrates and lower in fat.
It is important to remember chronic disease is rarely the result of one nutrient or one risk factor. Health risks may have less to do solely with the intake of saturated fat and more to do with the specific nutritional requirements of the individual. Patient risk needs to be considered on a case by case basis and dietary requirements assessed in the context of that individual’s overall risk. As we have found at Copeman Healthcare, personalized care and attention is an essential component when developing care plans including dietary recommendations.
As the science of nutrition has evolved, marketers eager to sell food products have played with messaging that may have confused the facts about healthy eating. The truth is much simpler than it seems – the more we eat fresh whole foods and less processed, refined products the healthier we will be.
Are you interested in learning about what macro and micro nutrients are essential in your diet? Check out Copeman’s definitive guide to