Butter is back and bacon is being heralded. Well, not so fast.
Flawed studies may get a lot of attention, but they don’t change the science behind nutrition recommendations.
So, what are the facts behind fats?
Can you slather on the butter?
What about fat’s close cousin, cholesterol?
Tune in as Sonya Angelone, MS, RDN, discusses the latest controversies regarding saturated fat and your diet and helps clear up the confusion.
Melanie Cole (Host): Well, you’ve heard there’s so much controversy lately and in the media. Butter is back. You can have as much bacon as you want. Well, not so fast, because there’ve been some flawed studies that get a lot of media attention but they don’t change most of the science behind nutrition recommendations. What are some of the facts behind fats in particular? Is butter okay to have now? What about cholesterol and saturated fats? It can be a very confusing world. My guest is Sonia Angelone. She is the owner of a nutrition consulting firm providing individual consultations, group programs, and corporate workshops. Welcome to the show, Sonia. Tell us a little bit about the fat controversy, cholesterol, saturated fat. What’s going on in the world of nutrition today?
Sonia Angelone (Guest): Well, good morning. There is always a lot going on in the world of nutrition, especially in the world of saturated fats. We’ve gotten, it seems, mixed messages. I want to clarify it a little because what’s often confusing is really not explained. We can explain why it’s confusing. I think what we need to do is go back to the mid ‘80s when it was looking like the research was suggesting that very low-fat diets were best for heart health. Now, low-fat diet can be good for heart health, especially for some people. There’s certainly research that supports that. But what happened was the food industry sort of grabbed hold of that information and turned it into low-fat treats, like low-fat, high-sugar foods are good for you, and that really wasn’t the message that was intended to be conveyed at all. What happened is everybody sort of gleaned on to as long as it’s low-fat, then it’s good for me, it’s healthy. So people started eating about 300 calories more of sugar a day, and what happened was that we started saying, “Hey, people on this low-fat diets aren’t doing better. It looks like their LDL and possibly their risk for heart disease is going up. It looks like low-fat diets aren’t good after all. What got translated from just the low-fat, heart-healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and beans and whole grains got translated to well, just low-fat in general of being a high-sugar diet. What happened was we abandoned the low-fat mantra to, well, now fat is good and if low fat is bad, then high fat must be good. Bottom line is you have to look at not only what you’re eating, but if you’re going to compare population and groups of people, you have to look at what you’re substituting. If you have people that are eating fat and then you put them on a low-fat diet, if you’re substituting that fat with sugar, they’re not going to do better. But if you’re substituting it with heart-healthy fat and fiber and protein, then most likely they will be better. But everybody is individual and unique, and the best diet for one person isn’t necessarily the best diet for the next person.
Melanie: Well, there’s been so much talk. For a while, there was the Atkins diet and that was all fat and no sugars at all, not even the healthy good carbohydrates. A tomato was off limit. A carrot was off limit. Nobody ever got fatty in those things. There was that. Then we’ve come to the point where some people are saying, “You know, it might not be quite as bad for you as we originally thought.” People have been eating eggs for a thousand years. What is the deal now, Sonia, with inflammation being the predictor of heart disease versus cholesterol levels? Are we still concerned with that?
Sonia: Well, in terms of cholesterol levels, there are years and years of good data that suggest that if your cholesterol level goes up, your risk for heart disease goes up. But it all depends on where you start. I think the assumption was made long ago that cholesterol in your blood was directly related to cholesterol in your diet. The more cholesterol you ate in your diet, the more cholesterol went up in your blood. Then what we learned, as technology advanced and science advanced, we realized that it’s not an equal increase, that your body has about a liter’s worth of cholesterol. If you eat a half a liter, your liver will make the other half a liter. Because cholesterol is important. It’s important for nerve transmission and conduction. It’s important to make hormones. What we know is that if you increase your dietary cholesterol that your liver will make a little less to compensate. Not everybody does that, but most people do. The newest dietary guidelines that will be coming out in 2015, it looks like they’re abandoning the recommendation to just decrease cholesterol, because for the average person, eating cholesterol is really not a factor that’s going to increase their risk for heart disease. Really, it’s more about what they’re eating and not just what they’re not eating.
Melanie: We can have the occasional egg. I love eggs. I feed my kids egg. Now, what about even things like shrimp? It’s very healthy. It’s a lean fish, but it does have cholesterol in it.
Sonia: Shrimp does have cholesterol. I’m not concerned about shrimp, first of all. We’re not eating shrimp on a regular basis, but the only thing is shrimp is really low in saturated fats. The problem with saturated fat is still an issue. But it decreases your LDL receptors, and what happen is the more saturated fat you have, it decreases LDL receptors, which means the LDL can’t be cleared from your blood. And the longer it stays in there, the more likely it is to get oxidized, and oxidized cholesterol leads to inflammation, which goes back to your question. What we’re learning is that inflammation seems to be at the root of so many diseases—heart disease, even osteoporosis, possibly cancer, diabetes. Really, the goal of eating a healthy diet is to really eat a diet that will decrease inflammation.
Melanie: What does decrease inflammation, Sonia? People ask me that question all the time. If someone were to come right to you and say, “What foods can I eat to decrease inflammation?” We’re not just talking about arthritis. We’re talking about inflammation inside your body—plaques in arteries. Yes, what foods are you talking about? Give us some foods.
Sonia: Well, in general, we’re looking at kind of a Mediterranean-style diet. Although there are some guidelines that pertain to everybody, we can’t say that everybody should eat higher fat, Mediterranean-style diet because there are some people that have a particular genetic predisposition if they’re APOE genotype. But they have to have a lower fat diet. But the average person probably would do very well, would decrease their inflammation if they eat a Mediterranean-style diet, which is really based on eating fresh fruits and vegetables that are minimally processed, eating wholesome foods in general—eggs, lean dairy, lean meats, poultry, and plenty of fish. If you look at how we eat in general in this country, we’re going more towards processed foods. We’re not eating much fish. If we do, it’s fish sticks that don’t really have the benefit. In general, everybody can benefit from eating more produce, and I do recommend eating fish, especially fatty fish, at least twice a week.
Melanie: Are there certain foods that you just say, yeah, beets, pineapple, something, those are really great. So you said fish, for sure, they’ve got those omega-3s. That’s really great for us. What other foods?
Sonia: I would start with produce, because in general, we’re edging out produce partly because we think it needs to be prepared, it needs to be cooked. As you mentioned before, carrot, I don’t know anybody who’s gotten sick or increased their inflammation or gotten overweight because of eating carrots. I do recommend carrots. Ideally, I like getting from the farmers’ market. They’re easy. They’re not very big. They’re really flavorful. Again, people eat because food needs to taste good, and if you get real wholesome, fresh foods, they taste good, you’re going to eat them. Just have produce front and center, at least half your plate of produce, whether it be snap peas, carrots, broccoli, steamed or raw, any kind. Go for colors because we know that colors are really healthy. Sweet potatoes, the starchy vegetable. It gives you good energy for your exercise. It’s not something that’s going to get converted to sugar right away in your bloodstream. I recommend eating nuts, especially almonds and walnuts. Walnuts are certainly anti-inflammatory. They have good alpha-linolenic acid, which is a type of omega-3 fat, which is found in fish. Almonds are really high in calcium. There are so many studies that show that people who eat about an ounce or ounce and a half of nuts per day certainly get anti-inflammatory benefits and they don’t gain weight. We don’t know exactly that’s because nuts are satisfying because of the higher fat content and maybe they’re not snacking as often, we’re not sure why, but we know that nuts and seeds are a good thing to add.
Melanie: Well, these are all great foods. Nuts and seeds, produce. Fill your plate with the colors and the wonderful green leafy and carrots and produce and fish and lean meats, and yes, you can even eat eggs again. You’re listening to Eat Right Radio with our good friends from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For more information, you can go to eatright.org. That’s eatright.org. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks for listening, and stay well.