Dietary fats have been demonised to the point where biting into burger feels like asking for an instant heart attack. But new research shows that fat may not be the villain we once thought.
Full-fat dairy foods ate more heart protective than fat-free ones. And lean beef can help lower blood pressure
Just a little bit helps control your appetite. Your body needs it to operate. We’re talking about fat-the kind in a juicy steak, not beneath your skin – which research now shows is key to a healthy diet, and even a lower weight (in that consuming more won’t necessarily lead to extra pounds). Counter intuitive, we know, so, here, answers to your pressing questions with all the new thinking-and how it applies to your plate.
Good fat, bad fat, which is which?
The conventional wisdom is the plant-derived unsaturated fats are good for heart health, and saturated fats which come mostly from meat and dairy – are bad. But last year, a meta-analysis in the Annals of Internal Medicine found no link between saturated fat and heart disease risk and even suggested a heart benefit from dairy fat. That said, trans fats-the chemically altered ones found in processed foods and listed as partially hydrogenated oils-will always be horrible for you: they increase risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Are some fats still better than others?
While saturated fats may no longer be ‘bad,’ experts continue to believe unsaturated fats are better. “Saturated fats relatively neutral overall, in that they won’t cause harm,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., of Tufts University, a co-author of the Annals analysis. But increasing unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, or fish strongly improves health. In fact, another reason analysis published in Circulation found that upping the amount of unsaturated fats in a person’s diet lowered the risk of heart disease-whether that unsaturated fat replaced calories from saturated fats or total carbohydrates. “Linoleic acid, an unsaturated fat found in vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds, reduces cholesterol levels and may even improve insulin sensitivity and lower diabetes risk,” says Harvard University’s Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D, who led the study.
What makes you fat, then?
“Most likely, it’s refined grains, sugars, and starches that are the major culprits in unhealthy diets,” Mozaffarian says. As low-fat diets took hold, many foods were made with more refined carbs – which basically turn to sugar the second they hit our lips. This process spikes blood sugar and insulin levels, making fat loss more difficult. On the other hand, fat can help you eat less. “It makes your stomach send fullness signals to your brain,” says Shape nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D. ‘Starches don’t do that.’
So what should I eat?
Every trend has a countertrend, and meat-heavy Paleo diets and bulletproof coffee, which calls for adding several tablespoons of butter and oil to your morning joe, seem to be just as extreme – and inadvisable – as a no-fat approach. Since fat is calorie-dense, Rousell suggests getting about a third of your daily calories from it (and aiming to get about twice as much fat from fish and plant sources as from other animal ones). Mozaffarian recommends increasing the amount of vegetable oils, fish, yogurt, and nuts you eat – and rounding those foods out with occasional eggs, butter, poultry, and red meat. And, of course, he says to leave refined grains, starches, and sugary beverages mostly off the menu.