Fat: friend or foe?

~ By Laura Brieser-Smith, Registered dietitian, certified personal trainer ~

For decades the advice has been to eat less fat to reduce your risk of heart disease, as well as to prevent obesity and other health problems. If you have been listening to the news lately you may have heard that this is not the case at all. So, what is the real truth about fat – is it “bad” or not?

Laura Brieser-SmithThere is no doubt that mono- and polyunsaturated fats found in vegetable oils and fish provide protection against heart disease. The question remains, is the same true for the saturated fats found in foods such as beef, cheese, and butter?

There is no doubt that saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the body. However, it may also raise levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

Since HDL works to remove LDL deposits, it appears that saturated fat may be less of a culprit in heart disease. Scientists have also found that there are several types of LDL particles. Some are small and dense and others are large and fluffy. It is the smaller particles that are responsible for buildup of fatty plaque in arteries and carbohydrate intake – not fat – causes these to form. To complicate matters further, not all saturated fats are equal in their effects on the body. The saturated fats found in tropical oils (esp. coconut), dairy, and chocolate act differently on the body than the saturated fats found in meat (meat appears to be less good for us).

In addition, one should also consider carbohydrates in the equation. It is clear that the overconsumption of refined carbohydrates, sugar, and other sweeteners is largely responsible for increased rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes. These foods can cause swings in blood sugar levels, intensify feelings of hunger which lead to overeating, and are very easily converted into stored fat and the small LDL particles previously mentioned.

Before you go out and start eating lots of steak and butter, keep in mind that there is still a LOT of controversy surrounding this topic. There is a good deal of research on both sides of the debate and scientists are far from coming to a clear consensus about saturated fat. Consequently, the advice to eat all foods in moderation is best to heed at this point. Feel free to enjoy red meat and other saturated fat sources in moderation. But you should also watch how much sugar and other processed carbohydrates you consume.

Laura Brieser-Smith, MPH, RD, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at hlthydsign@aol.com.

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