Saturated Fat

Nutrition Experts Weigh in on Saturated Fat

Keeping track of proper dietary guidelines can be a challenge. We have reported on ways that workplace wellness programs can help employees understand diet, for example here, here, and here.

Now MedPage Today reports that “the optimal level of fats in the diet, and which kinds, remain a topic of heated debate, as does the process by which the government’s official dietary guidelines have been developed.” To provide clarity, they asked eight nutrition experts to “give the skinny” on The Saturated Fat Debate.

One question: “Do you agree that it’s still a good idea to avoid butter and other animal fats?” Highlights include:

Christopher D. Gardner, PhD, Stanford University: “I would be more comfortable with agreeing to the statement that, “I agree it is a good idea to avoid excessive amounts of butter and animal fats, just as it is in general a good idea to avoid excess of just about anything in our daily diet.” When we focus on single foods or specific nutrients to avoid, it reinforces the idea that the mere absence of these will be virtuous and healthful.”

Connie Diekman, MEd, RD, LD, FADA, Washington University in St. Louis: “The goal for limiting animal fats is more of a moderation rather than a ‘must avoid.’ Just as important as limiting saturated fats is what do you replace these fats with? Boosting carbohydrates in place of fats is not a good step but choosing polyunsaturated fats instead of animal fats will help lower LDL-C.”

Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, Tufts University: “We should no longer be talking about saturated fat in isolation. The important factor is the relative amount of unsaturated to saturated fat, in favor of the former and limited in the latter. What should be avoided is the replacement of animal and dairy fat with refined carbohydrate, as we saw in the 1990’s during the low-fat craze.”

Another question: “Randomized trials are probably out of the question, so how can we ever determine for sure whether particular foods contribute to long-term adverse outcomes?” Highlights include:

Diekman: “Until we learn how to use the genetic map to identify what each one of us needs to stay healthy, diet advice will rely on RCT’s that look at risk factors – which are not the same as RCT’s that focus on disease outcomes – and then extrapolate those outcomes to diet guidelines. Diet guidelines provide just that, guidelines that offer information on how to structure eating plans that allow for variance but still will promote health.”

Lichtenstein: “It is unlikely any single food determines long-term health outcomes. Emphasis should be focused on the whole diet. The important point, sometimes missed, is balance — more of some things and less of others.”