Separate fat from fiction: fat is no foe

Tue, 07/18/2006 - 8:54am
By: The Citizen

(ARA) - Saturated fat is the Rodney Dangerfield of the fat world. Not only do saturated fats not get any respect, they’ve been maligned by the health community for decades. The Food and Drug Administration put one type of saturated fat -- trans fat -- front and center earlier this year by requiring that packaged foods carry the amount of these manmade partially or fully hydrogenated oils on their labels. While this practice has brought to light that trans fats are bad for your health, it also left consumers believing there was no room for any saturated fat on their plates.

Veronica Atkins begs to differ. “The truth is, not all saturated fats are created equal -- you can’t just lump them together,” says Atkins, chair of the Dr. Robert C. Atkins Foundation, which funds independent, scientific metabolism and nutrition research. “Fat is not the foe it’s been made out to be.”

All fat in natural, unprocessed foods comes in threes -- a blend of saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. “Contrary to popular belief, saturated fat in and of itself is not responsible for our nation’s health woes. It’s when the food industry artificially alters this balanced mixture by engineering one of the elements, that nutrition and health benefits are compromised,” says Atkins.

“Without the advantage of hard science, America’s dietary guidelines have recommended a low fat diet regime since the 1970s, despite the fact that decreasing total fat intake has had little substantiated effect on the runaway incidence of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease in our society,” says Abby Bloch, PhD, vice president of programs and research for the Atkins Foundation. Even after 14 years of studying the diets of thousands of individuals, the Women’s Health Initiative could not confirm that a low-fat diet reduced the incidence of heart disease, breast cancer and colorectal cancer in post-menopausal women. Yet even the USDA’s most recent dietary guidelines still recommend that the average individual consume less than 10 percent of calories from natural saturated fat, including animal fats and coconut and palm kernel oils.

“There’s a real lack of understanding of the effects of the saturated fat found in our diet. Studies isolating the various components of natural saturated fats have not been done in humans, so we don’t really know the long term results of dramatically limiting and lowering the intake of natural saturated fats,” says Bloch.

In foods containing natural fats, such as animal products, most people are surprised to learn that the predominant fat is not saturated, explains Bloch. For example, half of the fat in beef is monounsaturated -- the same kind found in olive oil.

She and Atkins provide 10 reasons why fats, including natural saturated fats, are vital to a healthy diet and our overall well-being.

1. Without fat, you can’t have a healthy nervous system.

2. Fat is necessary for hormone production.

3. Fats help to slow the release of sugar into the blood.

4. Fat is digested slowly, staying in our intestines and keeping us feeling full longer after we eat.

5. Fat ensures the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins, phytonutrients and important minerals.

6. Fat provides the raw material for healthy skin.

7. Fat is an important resource for the body’s fuel.

8. Without fat in the diet, we would not be able to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K.

9. Some fatty acids have important antiviral and antibacterial functions.

10. Fats serve as building blocks of muscles, membranes, nerves and blood vessels.

Humans have been consuming natural saturated fats for the past 2.5 million years, evolving from hunter-gatherers to meat-eaters. Experts on Paleolithic nutrition tell us that humans have been carnivores throughout time, deriving most of their energy from animal sources. But is Atkins recommending a nonstop diet of cheeseburgers and bacon?

“Absolutely not,” she emphasizes. “The point is that people are so hung up on cutting out fat in their diet to control weight and cholesterol, that they’re actually undermining their efforts by eating low fat processed foods that add sugar and carbohydrates to make up the difference. Until we learn more about how much fat our bodies really need and in what combination, including saturated fats, the message is: Keep it natural.”

Courtesy of ARA Content

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