An article recently published in Annals of Internal Medicine has many people wondering what role fats, including saturated fat, should play in their daily diet. In a nutshell, researchers did not find any relationship between total saturated fat intake and heart disease risk. This seems to contradict everything we have read for the last 40 years! So is it time to break out the pizza and ice cream?! To get to the bottom of this, let’s take a look at the different types of fats and dietary sources:
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) can be beneficial to your health, when eaten in moderation. They can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood and lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Examples include olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil and sesame oil. Other sources are avocados, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) can help improve cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Omega-6 and omega-3 (types of PUFAs) are essential fats your body needs but can’t produce, so they must be consumed through foods you eat. Sources of PUFAs include soybean oil, corn oil and safflower oil, some nuts and seeds, as well as fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring and trout.
Saturated fats are generally thought to increase your cholesterol and Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) levels and this can increase your risk of cardiac disease. Saturated fats are found mostly in animal products like fatty meats and full fat dairy. According to the Harvard School of Public Health “pizza and cheese are the biggest food sources of saturated fat in the U.S. diet.”
Trans fats sometimes occur naturally in foods, but are mostly made from oils through a process called partial hydrogenation. Trans fats can increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lower your HDL (“healthy”) levels, thus increasing your risk for cardiac disease. Trans fats are often found in commercially baked goods such as cakes and cookies. Other sources are fried foods, shortenings and margarine. You can determine the amount of trans fats in packaged food by looking at the nutrition label.
We’ve read about the heart, but what about diabetes? According to Mayo Clinic consuming MUFAs may “benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control.” They also state PUFAs may “also help decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes.”
The bottom line is fat is an important and necessary part of your diet but should be limited. At 9 calories per gram, it provides nearly double the amount of calories per gram of protein or carbohydrates. In general, consuming an excessive number of calories from any dietary source will result in weight gain, and excessive weight increases risk for heart disease and diabetes. Heart disease is a risk factor for kidney disease and kidney disease is a risk factor for heart disease because the heart and kidneys are interconnected.
Before you pick up the phone to order pizza for dinner, talk to your health care provider to find out what kind of diet, including what type of fats, will work best for you!