Cook and eat at home more often with wholesome foods – that’s the straightforward advice in the newly released Canada’s Food Guide. The advice that’s always been harder to wrap our minds around, however, is to reduce saturated fat. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Scientists are actively debating whether saturated fat is a nutrient of concern.
While there is consensus that trans fats should be avoided, the science on saturated fat is less clear-cut. Past studies found a link between heart disease and saturated fat, but more recent studies have not. Emerging research also suggests that the impact of saturated fat might depend on the food sources in which it is found. For example, full-fat dairy products may even provide protection against heart disease. The subject is clearly complex and evolving.
Good to know: The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s position statement on saturated fat did not set a limit on saturated fat, noting “the overall quality of one’s diet, combined with the types, qualities and quantities of foods, have more impact on health than any single nutrient such as saturated fat.”
2. Half the fat in beef is the same type of healthy fat found in avocados.
In fact, less than half the fat in beef is saturated. You might also be surprised to know that 14% of the fat in olive oil is saturated fat. Ditto for salmon. Even nuts have small amounts of saturated fats. Are these healthy, wholesome foods? Yes. The point is that foods are complex, and they often have a mixture of different fats.
Good to know: Fresh red meat is often thought to be the main source of saturated fat in our diets, but only account for 10%. Once trimmed of fat, meat is lean. In fact, a trimmed sirloin steak is just as lean as an equal portion of roasted chicken thigh. (food code 851 for chicken, 6172 for beef)
3. Consider the culprits: perhaps what we always thought we knew is not entirely true. A major source of saturated fat in the Canadian diet is highly processed food.
There is really no downside to cutting back on highly processed foods (baked goods, fast food and prepared packaged foods). Not only are they a major source of saturated fat in our diets, but they also tend to be high in refined carbohydrates, calories and sugar, and low in nutrients. Plus, they account for a whopping 50% of the calories in the average Canadian diet, leaving less room for wholesome foods that optimize health, including veggies, fruits, legumes, meat, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds and whole grains.
Good to know: The low-fat craze of the 90’s brought on a plethora of refined grains with added sugars (think low-fat breakfast bars with a smear of jam). Many elieve refined carbohydrates have contributed to rising rates of heart disease and this is not getting the attention it deserves.
Bottom line: We are creatures of habit. Dietary changes are not easy for most of us to make and stick to. We’re better off aiming to improve the overall quality of our diets by cooking and eating whole and minimally processed foods, rather than zeroing in on reducing any one nutrient even saturated fat.
Carol Harrison is a registered dietitian, follow Carol on Twitter and IG: @greatmealideas