Just when we thought we had this whole fat thing figured out—saturated is bad and unsaturated is good—a new body of research comes out that makes us have to rethink it all again.
A large systematic review and meta-analysis of nearly 80 studies published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine reviewed whether or not saturated fats (i.e. butter, cream, red meat) contribute to heart disease and if polyunsaturated fats (i.e. fatty fish, vegetable oil) can help reduce heart disease.
When the researchers looked at unique fatty acids with in the two groups, they found they were not equal. For example, one particular saturated fat called margaric acid (found in dairy products) and two types of omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish) were protective against heart disease. But omega-6 fatty acids (found in vegetable oil), another polyunsaturated fat, may cause heart problems.
The researchers concluded that, "current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fat." [Tweet this news!]
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Given that presently the American Heart Association recommends consuming around 25 to 35 percent of our total calories from fat, with no more than 7 percent of that being from saturated fat, now what should we do?
I can’t help but wonder what else the participants where eating or not eating. Can we truly point to one macronutrient as a cause of heart disease, or do we need to look at the entire picture? I think the latter. Is the burger the real culprit, or is it that the person eating the burger is having fries and a soda with it and not eating enough vegetables? And maybe the fish lover hates 100-percent whole grains and beans. We need to acknowledge the importance of micronutrients.
To me this study shows that nothing is really black and white, especially in the foods we eat and in preventing heart disease. Is it okay to eat saturated fat? Sure. Is it okay to eat polyunsaturated fats? Sure. Should we eat a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of micronutrients from all food groups and stay at a healthy body weight? You bet.