Re­think­ing Fat

Are Ban­ters onto some­thing?

Women's Health (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - * By Michelle Stacey Pho­to­graphs by Dan Forbes

We LOVE IT and FEAR IT, CRAVE IT and RE­SIST IT. Much of the food in­dus­try has been re-en­gi­neered to save us from it. But the lat­est science be­hind the F-word – how much to eat, what types to avoid – sug­gests that when it comes to your health and your weight, you can be less re­stric­tive. WH in­ves­ti­gates

Is there a phrase that gets a brisker work­out these days than “healthy fats”? Avo toast rules brunch menus and In­sta­gram feeds, EVOO (ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil) flows like wine over roasted veg­gies and nut but­ters whir to the beat of smoothie blenders. But nat­u­rally, that brings us to the idea of “un­healthy” fats. What to make of those sat­u­rated va­ri­eties – the meats, the dairies? The fats that we’ve been told for decades will raise our choles­terol, clog our ar­ter­ies and, ul­ti­mately, cause heart dis­ease? Stud­ies have been ac­cu­mu­lat­ing qui­etly over the past few years which sug­gest that the truth about sat­u­rated fat is more complicated – and less damn­ing – than pre­vi­ously thought. In fact, the sat­u­rated stuff may be nec­es­sary, even... Healthy. Well, be still our beat­ing hearts.

This new doc­trine hit the big time last year, when the jour­nal The Lancet pub­lished a decade­long study look­ing at the eat­ing pat­terns of 135 000 peo­ple from 18 coun­tries. The star­tling results got the sci­en­tific com­mu­nity squab­bling and in­spired a flurry of in­cen­di­ary head­lines (“LowFat Diet Could Kill You,” for one). The study found not only that those who con­sumed the least fat and most car­bo­hy­drates had a 28 per­cent higher risk of dy­ing over those 10 years, but also that those eat­ing the most fat had a 23 per­cent lower risk for death. More point­edly, those results held steady across all kinds of fats – in­clud­ing sat­u­rated fats, which showed an ad­di­tional ben­e­fit of be­ing associated with a lower stroke risk. And low lev­els of sat­u­rated fat ac­tu­ally in­creased mor­tal­ity risk. Shock­ing news – and not every­one is on the same page. The Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion still rec­om­mends that sat­u­rated fat be less than six per­cent of an adult’s daily kilo­joule con­sump­tion. In South Africa? No more than 10 per­cent of en­ergy in­take and the in­take should be less than seven per­cent of en­ergy in those at risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease ac­cord­ing to di­eti­cian Anél Kirsten. But al­ter­ing di­etary rec­om­men­da­tions can be like turn­ing an ocean liner that’s go­ing full steam ahead: it’s a slow and un­wieldy process. “There’s been a lot of dis­cus­sion on the evils of sat­u­rated fats for many years,” says Dr Rita Red­berg, a car­di­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cisco School of Medicine and the edi­tor of JAMA In­ter­nal Medicine. “Re-ed­u­ca­tion based on new knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing takes time.” Mean­while, our ef­forts to avoid sat­u­rated fats have led us to try to re­place them – with mixed results. The first sug­ges­tion, carbs, turned out to be cat­a­strophic, with many ex­perts now sug­gest­ing it trig­gered our cur­rent obe­sity cri­sis. Now the anti-sat-fat camp rec­om­mends “re­plac­ing sat­u­rated fat with un­sat­u­rated fat as much as rea­son­ably pos­si­ble,” says Dr Wal­ter Wil­lett, a pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy and nu­tri­tion at Har­vard TH Chan School of Public Health, who has stud­ied diet’s ef­fect on health for 40 years. But con­cerns are aris­ing about un­sat­u­rated fats as well, par­tic­u­larly one cat­e­gory of polyun­sat­u­rated fats (PUFAs): cer­tain veg­etable oils, such as corn and soy­bean, that are high in omega- 6 fatty acids (as op­posed to those high in omega-3s – like olive oil – which are clearly health-pro­mot­ing). The thicket of con­flict­ing mes­sages is frus­trat­ing. But there is a way through the bushes, a path that fol­lows the ev­i­dence and weaves in com­mon sense too. Be­cause fat is as es­sen­tial as it is de­li­cious, we dove deeper into what kind you should be putting on your plate.


Eat a high-fat Mediter­ranean diet. Re­duce stress. Walk at least 22 min­utes a day. Take the fo­cus off sat­u­rated fat. When Red­berg and two other car­di­ol­o­gists pub­lished an ed­i­to­rial in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine last April pro­claim­ing all of the above, the back­lash from old-guard sci­en­tists was swift and sting­ing, la­belling the ad­vice “bizarre” and “sim­plis­tic.”

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