Fat Facts

Earlier this month, new research challenged the well-accepted relationship between saturated fat and heart disease, calling into question if a correlation between the two truly exists.

While many dieters fear fat, believing any food with fat content will lead to weight gain is a major diet myth. Eating any foods with too many calories is what matters. Whether the calories come from carbohydrates, fat, or protein, too many calories consumed leads to weight gain. Fat is important! It is important for energy, protecting vital organs, and insulating the body. In addition, fat helps us to feel full thus actually can prevent weight gain caused by overeating.
Not All Fat is Created Equal
While this research is still new, it is important to remember not all fats are the same. All fats carry the same 9 calories/gram, however, different fats affect the body in multiple ways and have varying benefits.

Saturated Fat
For saturated fats, think animal products, including butter, cheese, meat, or foods made with palm oils. Historically, research demonstrated saturated fat intake increases both LDL and HDL cholesterol.

However, this new research has refuted the popular theory that saturated fat leads to heart disease. Evidence from the study suggests people who ate higher levels of saturated fat did not have a higher risk for cardiac disease than those who ate less saturated fat. Further, those who consumed more unsaturated fat did not lower their risk.

Trans Fat
Trans fats generally come in the form of processed foods, such as prepared pastries, tortillas, waffles, non-dairy creamer, and peanut butter. These fats are considered the most dangerous to health, as they are highly processed and include no benefits to the body. To avoid trans fats, be on the look out for nutrition labels listing hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, or lard in the ingredients.

Unsaturated Fat
Unsaturated fat, often referred to as a “good fat”, can be found in many plant products, including olive oil, canola oil, avocados, walnuts, and almonds. Research has found replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat can reduce cardiovascular risk. However, new research questions this theory, and thereby suggests heart disease risk isn’t affected by a higher intake of unsaturated fats, but rather reduction in trans fats. Results stated a 16 percent increase in risk of heart disease, suggesting guidelines to avoid trans fats and processed foods, and recommending a diet rich in whole foods, such as the Mediterranean diet.

How Does One Find “GOOD FATS”?
Typically foods that are liquid at room temperature are better choices when it comes to good fats, although there are some exceptions.

Consider olive and canola oil vs. margarine or vegetable shortening – olive and canola oils are rich in polyunsaturated fats and antioxidants, providing many nutritional benefits to the body, while still adding flavor and satiety to a meal. While margarine or vegetable shortening does contain unsaturated fat, it also has trans and saturated fats, which can lead to raised cholesterol and other cardiovascular-related issues.

However, coconut oil is an exception to the “liquid at room temperature” rule when it comes to heart healthy fats. Despite being high in saturated fats, the coconut oil fats are processed differently than solid fats like margarine or vegetable shortening.  Additionally, research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition stated coconut oil might facilitate weight loss when substituting coconut oil while cooking, in place of traditional oils.

Bottom Line:
Like any high caloric foods, portion is key. Enjoy healthy fats, but be sure to watch the amount included in each dish.

In addition, be sure to enjoy a variety of heart-healthy foods to help fight heart disease, including fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, all of which are high in fiber.

For more information, see Lara’s “Fat Facts” segment with Fox News here from March 18, 2014.

Lara Field MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian and Specialist in Pediatrics with over a decade of clinical and client experience. When she’s not actively working to keep her clients healthy, she’s a busy mother of two active boys and loves testing new recipes in her kitchen. Follow her on Instagram to see her recipe ideas, product suggestions, and see how she manages a healthy lifestyle @larafield.