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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 07/28/2011

Rethinking saturated fat

This week’s “Eat, Drink and Be Healthy” column is one in a series I’ve written over the past few months that offer practical tips for incorporating the 2010 Dietary Guidelines into your diet. This time I focused on what the guidelines have to say about fat.

Among many recommendations, the guidelines call for most of us to limit consumption of saturated fats to 10 percent or less of our daily calories, largely as a means of keeping our cardiovascular systems healthy. (Cutting back on sat fats can also help rein in overall calorie consumption.) They suggest replacing saturated fats with more-healthful unsaturated fats whenever we can.

Some readers called me on the carpet for passing along that recommendation, noting that the saturated-fat guidelines are based on outmoded scientific thinking. Much of sat fat’s bad rap, they rightly note, has come from an imperfect understanding of that fat’s effect on blood cholesterol, particularly LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. The common wisdom has long been that saturated fat intake boosts LDL, high levels of which increase risk of cardiovascular disease.

In fact, the role of saturated fat in our diet is under reevaluation. In a major piece of research published last year, for instance, researchers performed a meta-analysis of studies regarding saturated fat intake and various heart-health-related outcomes. They found no link between saturated fat consumption and coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease.

Greg Miller, executive vice president of science and research for the National Dairy Council, points out that not all saturated fats are alike, nor are all the foods that contain saturated fats. He notes that cutting too far back on saturated fat intake might deprive people of important nutrients that come packaged together with saturated fat in certain foods. Given his job, it’s no surprise that dairy foods are listed among those foods. Dairy, he points out, delivers calcium, protein and a host of vitamins and minerals. And, as I noted in my column in February, research has shown that adequate intake of full-fat dairy products might offer protection against diseases such as colorectal cancer and diabetes.

“The issues related to saturated fat will resolve themselves,” Miller says. In the meantime, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines remain in place — until they’re reviewed and rewritten five years hence.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 07/28/2011

 
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