How many conflicting pieces of nutrition advice can you think of? I bet that could be a whole blog post on its own!
One of the wonders of nutrition, but also the frustrations, is the ever-changing and sometimes conflicting information we’re presented with.
Dietary fat is one such topic. Plagued with what might have been premature conclusions about fat’s effect on heart health, the pendulum of advice has swung widely over the years from ‘fat is bad’, to ‘maybe some fats are ok’, to ‘actually some fats are good for you and we should consume way more of them’. Think no further than Omega-3. Canada’s Food Guide even advises all of us to add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to our diets every day. These new perspectives are certainly a long way from the low fat craze of the 80’s and 90’s and it seems that fat, largely, has been vindicated from the evil-doer it was once perceived to be.
There’s one exception. Saturated fat continues to be seen as the bad apple. But could this tide be changing?
Earlier this week, I attended a Canadian Nutrition Society conference all about the issue of dietary fat. A most prestigious speaker, Dr. Mozaffarian from Harvard, reviewed the latest evidence about saturated fat. Dr. M as I call him, is pretty much royalty in nutrition circles and I follow his work like bad Paparazzi!
Dr. M’s bottom line is that negative evidence about saturated fat (SFA) is not as strong as we have been led to believe. In fact, every line of evidence suggests from a heart health perspective, SFA is actually neutral. What’s more, when you remove SFA and replace it with sugar or starch (we’ve done this in hundreds of products over the years so they can be marketed as ‘low fat’ – think yogurt, cookies, snack foods, etc.), we actually make the product harmful. Yes, harmful. The research is clear: sugar is worse than fat. In fact, when you compare refined carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, etc.) to fat, even SFA, refined carbs are definitely more harmful to your health.
With obesity tripling in less than a generation, the cost of diabetes already at $14 billion and rising, and high blood cholesterol affecting almost ½ the adult population, it’s no wonder there’s huge pressure to find solutions to the public health issues affecting Canadians. Conventional wisdom had long held that overall fat intake leads to high cholesterol which leads to heart disease. This long held belief has been questioned over the last few years however, and it is now widely acknowledged in the science communities this paradigm is just not true. The science in a sense has ‘quietly dropped total fat’ (a great quote I’m borrowing from Dr. M!) as a risk factor for heart disease.
The new news is the link between saturated fat and heart disease is now being questioned. For long, SFA has probably been the most vilified nutrient of all. As it turns out, SFA may well have been wrongly accused. Makes you wonder how many other foods or nutrients are currently being wrongly accused!
It may sound surprising, but the science of nutrition is still very young. There’s a lot we still have yet to figure out and for now, a lot of advice is based on surprisingly little evidence.
But what to do about this? For me, it always boils down to balance, moderation, and Canada’s Food Guide. This new evidence doesn’t suggest we should eat more saturated fat. It probably just means some foods people have worried about due to SFA content (like cheese and meat) should not be worried about. Once again, I believe this new science will tell us whole foods are preferable to ones we’ve manipulate based on single nutrients. Mother nature continues to inspire me!
About the author:
Karine is a Registered Dietitian with Canada Beef Inc, passionate foodie and world traveler. Beef, of course, is a favourite food in her home – providing nourishing and nurturing meals for her hubby, growing 7 year old and the friends and other family they often entertain. There are not many conversations, either at work or at home, that don’t weave their way back somehow to food, recipes, nutrition, or beef. “Is “beef” all you talk about at work?”, Karine’s son recently asked. Karine proudly responded “yes”…