Fit Facts: Don’t be timid of eating foods with saturated fat

By Blake Glosson

Although saturated fat is frequently accused of being unhealthy, evidence is beginning to demonstrate that this blame might be unmerited.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans says people should consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids. If you’re trying to follow these guidelines — especially if you have a family history of heart disease — it’s important to understand what studies actually show about saturated fat.

Unfortunately, sometimes public opinion isn’t consistent with scientific research.

“I’ve heard it’s bad for you and we shouldn’t be eating as much as we do and it’s in a lot of fast food,” said freshman marketing major Zachary Reszel. “It’s not detrimental to our health, but it certainly is bad for you.”

Now, I must admit: I was caught up in the hype before I looked at research; however, the results I found changed my opinion.

A common charge made against saturated fat is it causes heart disease. One in every four deaths in America was caused by heart disease in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which makes the verdict on saturated fat quite pressing.

Yet, recent research has not backed the association between saturated fats and heart disease.

With a meta-analysis of 72 studies with more than 600,000 people, researchers looking for “associations between fatty acids and coronary disease” concluded that “current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats,” according to a March 18 review by Annals of Internal Medicine.

This follows another meta-analysis published in 2010, which reviewed 21 studies and nearly 350,000 participants, finding “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of” coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Even further research supports these claims. A study in PLOS ONE found that “increasing the levels of saturated fat in the diet does not lead to increased levels of saturated fat in the blood. However, increasing the amount of carbohydrates in the diet was found to raise the levels of a fatty acid associated with diabetes and heart disease,” according to a Nov. 22 Medical News Today article. The study “challenges the conventional wisdom that has demonized saturated fat and extends our knowledge of why dietary saturated fat doesn’t correlate with disease,” said Jeff Volek, senior author and professor, according to the article.

Now, before you put down this newspaper and sprint to the nearest Pizza Hut to celebrate, it’s necessary to note this issue is rather complex. Saturated fat is only one nutrient — one nutrient doesn’t make a particular food healthy or unhealthy.

For example, just because saturated fat isn’t unhealthy doesn’t mean ice cream, French fries and chocolate cake — foods high in saturated fat — are healthy options.

The real problem with a lot of foods high in saturated fat is they’re also high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and empty calories, which are more likely to cause health problems than saturated fat. Additionally, many foods containing saturated fat have a low nutrient content. Due to these variables, foods with saturated fat often aren’t the healthiest choices.

But, this isn’t always the case. Foods such as eggs, peanut butter, mackerel, steak, cheese, nuts, seeds, coconut milk and coconut, olive and avocado oils all provide health benefits. These food items shouldn’t be avoided because of their saturated fat content. Instead, saturated fat is needed as a part of a healthy diet.

Saturated fat has been unfairly vilified for far too long. Now, with research, it’s time to reevaluate our standards.