Judge Saturated Fat by the Company it Keeps

  • Article
  • 3 min read August 18, 2015

As health and wellness professionals, you help guide people toward healthy lifestyles by teaching them how to eat nutritionally balanced meals that are tailored to meet their specific health and wellness needs. For saturated fat and added sugar, the advice from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to consume fewer and smaller portions (i.e., for saturated fat, less than 10 percent of total calories), use less in cooking/food preparation and to select the most nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. Health professionals can help the public navigate this advice by using the calories from these food sources to increase the palatability of nutrient-dense foods, rather than consume foods or beverages that are primarily added sugars, saturated fat or both… in other words, judge them by the company they keep.

With all the emerging research being published on fat (trans fat, saturated fat, total fat) lately, you are likely getting questions from people about what they should eat when it comes to fat. An emerging body of scientific evidence indicates that eating certain foods with saturated fat may not be associated with cardiovascular disease outcomes and could be part of a balanced eating plan.

Just last week another study on saturated and trans fat was published in the British Medical Journal, funded by the World Health Organization (WHO), that supported previous findings suggesting there is no clear association between high saturated fat consumption and all-cause mortalitycoronary heart disease (CHD), CHD mortalityischemic stroke or Type 2 diabetes. However, the study did find that higher consumption of total trans fats were associated with a 20-30 percent increased risk of all-cause mortality, CHD mortality and CHD – likely driven mainly by higher artificial trans fat, such as those found in hydrogenated vegetable oils used in some processed foods.

The researchers pointed out that specific foods cannot be assumed to be associated with cardiovascular disease risk merely based on their saturated fat content. This is because each food has its own unique combination of individual fatty acids and other components which could impact disease risk differently. It really comes down to the total diet, so balance and variety still ring true.

That’s what we need to keep in mind when counseling clients on the appropriate level of saturated fat in their diets. Saturated fats in foods can keep bad company or good company, which is why it’s so important that we continue to guide the public to eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods from all food groups. We can help allay yesterday’s fear of fat with sound advice on how to fit the recommended amount of fat into an overall nutritionally balanced meal plan. For dairy foods, the Dietary Guidelines recommend low-fat and fat-free options. Should people want to spend their saturated fat (within the 10 percent or less of total calories) on a higher-fat dairy choice, it can fit into a balanced meal on an occasional basis. Regardless of fat level, milk, cheese and yogurt contain essential nutrients, including calcium and high-quality protein.

Want more on this hot topic? The most recent WHO Nutrition Expert Guideline Advisory Group (NUGAG) meeting in June 2015 reviewed and considered the new evidence from the BMJ meta-analysis in preparation for updated WHO guidelines on saturated and trans fats. Its release in anticipated soon.