Is saturated fat good for us or not? Is it really the villain it has been made out to be. There is a lot of fuss today concerning Governmental advice about dietary fat consumption. At the moment, it is recommended that 30% of our calories come from fats, 10% of that from saturated fat. Yet the suggestion is that there is no real scientific foundation for this! We could have continued eating red meat, eggs and full-fat cheese; we could have continued drinking milk and cream with no detriment to our health. Or could we? The huge profits made by the food industry in creating low-fat foods which we all rushed to consume, could have been as nought – or do they have a place after all?
Good scientific advice is based on research where a cut-and dried result is often difficult to pin down; sometimes it’s only a subset of the population who will benefit from a particular intervention; sometimes research has to ‘mature’ with new findings appearing over time. With regards to saturated fats, a review by Steve Stiles published in ‘Heartwire’ in 2013 suggested that their effect on health had been overstated, so the jury has been out for a while.
So what do fats do in our diet and what is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat? Saturated fat has been thought to increase levels of blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a lipid – all the cholesterol we need is made by the liver, but it is also found in some foods. It is needed to manufacture Vitamin D and some hormones, used in cell walls and to manufacture bile acids. There are 2 types of cholesterol -so called ‘good’ high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL) and ‘bad’ low-density lipoprotein cholesterol; total levels in the body should be less than 5mmol/L.
High levels of blood cholesterol, particularly LDL, are a risk marker for heart disease, as it increases the amount of plaque laid down in blood vessel walls and in the brain so increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Saturated fats were thought to increase LDL, so the advice was to stop eating them. But this doesn’t seem to be the case – the reason why the majority of people have a raised cholesterol is lack of exercise and poor nutrition i.e. lifestyle factors contribute more to ill-health than that delicious steak or the butter on your bread.
So what is a good diet? That old adage ‘a little of what you fancy does you good’ is such good sense. Along with your 30% fats, including dairy and red meat, enjoy 30% of your calories from protein and 40% from carbohydrates. Eat little and often and choose as wide a range of natural foods as possible, rejecting foods which are refined. Eat more vegetables than fruit and include whole grains, especially oats which ‘mop-up’ extra cholesterol. Stop eating when you feel full but don’t go to bed hungry – sleep and a low blood sugar are not good bedfellows!
Exercise is so important, too, along with relaxation. Both will help reduce your cholesterol levels and make you feel so good!