For 40 years, U.S. Dietary Guidelines have advised Americans to eat low-fat diets in order to maintain a healthy weight and to reduce their chances of developing heart disease. These guidelines include limiting the amount of saturated fats in the diet found in meats, full-fat dairy products, fried food and baked goods. These guidelines date back to the 1960s when researchers began linking consuming saturated fats with an increase in “bad cholesterol” – LDL – the cholesterol connected to clogs in the arteries. These findings lead to the conclusion that eating less saturated fat, would reduce LDL levels and decrease the chance of developing coronary artery disease.
The guidelines to eat less saturated fat created an explosion in manufactured low-fat foods, like fat-free bagels and low-fat cookies. These kinds of foods replaced saturated fats with hydrogenated oils. Unfortunately, as we know now, hydrogenated oils also raise cholesterol levels and are bad for your heart health. Also without fat in these processed foods, manufacturers began to add more sugar to make the low-fat processed foods taste better. The extra sugar found in these foods affects blood sugar levels which lead to food cravings that make it difficult to control the appetite. It has become clear to researchers and doctors alike that replacing saturated fat with low-fat, refined carbohydrates and sugars does not make a healthier diet. In fact, like too much saturated fat, too many of these over-processed foods can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol levels.
There is conflicting evidence about dietary consumption of saturated fat and impact on risk of heart disease. Although the French consume more butter and other saturated fats than Americans, and enjoy a lower heart disease prevalence, new data reported in the British Medical Journal recently demonstrated a significantly increased risk for heart disease in British citizens with a high saturated fat intake. In the context of these findings, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to recommend limiting the amount of saturated fat in your diet. The AHA advises that only about 5% of your daily calories come from saturated fat. For example, if you follow a 2,000 calorie diet, only 120 calories should come from saturated fat; that’s about one slice of cheddar cheese or 1.5 oz of steak.
At New York Medical Associates we believe strongly that following a healthy lifestyle is the best preventative measures against coronary artery disease. We remain wary of dietary faddism and believe that saturated fats and simple carbohydrates should be minimized in the diet. The best diet is one that emphasizes plant-based foods such as vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans, whole grains with limited amounts of saturated fats and highly processed foods. These wise food choices will help you maintain your weight, your cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of developing heart disease.