The Dietary Guidelines of the 1970’s were not really based on the best scientific evidence. In 1977 in the United States and 1983 in the United Kingdom, both governments adopted the recommendation that fat should be no more than 30% of total calories, and of that, saturated fat should be no more than 10%.
It seems these recommendations lacked substantial supportive trial evidence. At the time the recommendation was made, the evidence to support the reduction of dietary fat and in particularly saturated fat was based on 5 secondary prevention studies, only one looking at healthy people.
A meta-analysis in 2015 of the evidence used to make these recommendations about fat, and saturated fat, found the following about the studies (1):
- Roughly the same number people died of all-cause mortality, whether you limited saturated fat or not
- Roughly the same number of coronary heart disease existed whether you limited saturated fat or not
- While serum cholesterol levels did significantly decrease in those restricting fat, it did not have an effect on all-cause mortality or coronary heart disease
The recommendations were not based on:
- Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT)- this is the Gold Standard in medicine.
- Women being tested
- Large groups of healthy people as controls
Which leads us to a whole other question: Does cholesterol lowering save your life?
What role do fat and cholesterol play in the diet-heart hypothesis? Well, that is a topic for another article. What I will share is that a 2010 meta-analysis did not find a correlation between saturated fat and heart disease. (2)
Some may argue that the dietary recommendations of the late 70’s should not be dropped immediately.
However, it has become clear that picking one macronutrient and vilifying it doesn’t solve the problems we are now facing with heart disease and obesity. What is clear is that the dietary recommendations are not getting people healthier.
Naturally Occurring Fats are Healthy in Moderation
Fats are found in foods as triglycerides, cholesterol, and fatty acids. Their roles are numerous, and we cannot survive without them, hence why they are one of the three needed macronutrients. (3)
- Fats are needed to make all your hormones
- Fats are needed to make cell membranes
- Fats are needed to support your brain and nervous system
- Fats are needed to help you absorb those important fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamin A, D, E and K
- Fats give you energy
- Fats protect your vital organs
- They are involved in chemical reactions supporting: growth, immune function, reproduction and basic metabolism
Did you know that all foods, which contain fat, contain a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat? Nature doesn’t separate these fats. And neither should you!
Which Fats to Avoid
The foods we should be avoiding, if you are truly worried about bad fats are
- Trans fats (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated)
- Processed vegetable oils
- Foods that may turn into fat in the body when not burned as energy
- White table sugar
- Simple starches such as pizza, bread, bagels, crackers, cookies, etc.
It isn’t just the type of fat that you need to worry about; it is how it is produced. Those oils with more polyunsaturated fat (e.g., vegetable oils) are much more susceptible to becoming a problem.
If these oils are exposed to high heat and chemicals, you end up with a fat that is oxidized, rancid, and overall problematic in the body. These fats are best ingested not having been heat or chemical treated. (4)
Low and no-fat foods are often full of more sugar. Go check it out yourself. If you take away one macronutrient, you must substitute another. For the most part, when fat is taken out of something, sugar/starches are added.
The problem with this is that if you don’t burn sugar, you end up storing it as fat. And most people live enough of a sedentary lifestyle for the amount of sugar/starches that are consumed. So it isn’t just the type of fat you eat that is making you fat, but also the quantity of sugar and simple starches you eat. (5)
With that, let’s look at nine foods that are notoriously considered high in fat that is healthy for you. All of these have healthy saturated fats, as well as other healthy fats and tons of nutrients!
9 Whole Unprocessed Fatty Foods that are Healthy (6)
This fruit is packed full of nutrients, including omega-9 fats (oleic acid) that support healthy skin and hormone balance. Rich in B-5, fiber, vitamin K, copper, folate, B-6, and vitamin E, these little gems back a ton of nutrients.
Use a few tablespoons in smoothies in place of banana, as a spread, instead of mayonnaise, or just eat straight with a little sea salt!
Try some or all of these 24 Delicious Creamy Avocado Recipes!
2. Dark Chocolate
A serving of chocolate provides the body with 200 mg of flavanols, antioxidants that have been shown to improve blood flow and promote heart health.
A couple of ways to hit 200 mg: 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder or 1.75 oz of dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa. Just be sure to buy natural, non-alkalized cocoa powder, as the processing of alkalized cocoa significantly reduces flavanol content. (7)
3. Grass-fed Butter
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It isn’t just the amount of fat you eat but how it is grown and processed that matters. Researchers are starting to discover what traditional diets have long known: eating whole foods grown the way nature intended is much healthier.
When animals that eat grass are fed only grass, their fat profile looks completely different than animals that are supplemented with grains, such as corn and soy. The omega-3 profile of a grass-fed piece of meat is higher than its grain fed counterpart, and the calorie count is lower!
Besides, these foods are rich in other healthy fats and fat-soluble vitamins. Grass-fed butter has up to four times more omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than its grain fed counterpart, and 66 percent less omega-6 linoleic acid, which tends to be more inflammatory.
Grass-fed butter also contains higher levels of vitamin K2. This essential vitamin protects the arteries from calcium deposit, helping the body move calcium from the arteries into the bones where it belongs. Most Americans are deficient in this crucial vitamin. (8)
4. Grass-fed Full Fat Dairy: Raw Milk, Yogurt, Kefir
A serving of full-fat dairy is comprised of ¼ monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid (olive and avocado) and ½ saturated fat with both medium and short chain fatty acids.
The medium chain fatty acids are akin to the healthy fats in coconut oil and the short chain fatty acids provide your colon cells with food, as well as act as a prebiotic for the good bacteria in your gut. This food is also rich in vitamin D and Potassium.
Whole milk is the least processed milk containing all the nutrients in the exact ratio nature intended. Remember, not everyone can tolerate dairy- it is one of the most common allergens.
Just because this is great for some people, doesn’t mean it will be great for you. If dairy is a food sensitivity for you, then skip this one for other healthy fatty foods.
5. Pasture Raised Meats
Red meat has gotten a bad rap because the saturated fat content is high. Given that more evidence is coming out that the way you raise an animal significantly impacts the health of the meat and that “saturated fat” in general may not be as bad as once through, may give you a reason to eat some healthy pastured grass fed meat.
Cows that eat grass in a pasture are going to be much healthier than cows fed grain and/or kept indoors, mainly for the reasons mentioned above in both the butter and dairy section. (9)
6. Pasture Raised Egg Yolks
Forget egg white omelets and go for the whole egg! Egg yolks have omega-3 in them, and eggs that are pasture raised often have the most, but be sure to read the label. Yolks are an incredible source of vitamin A, choline, other B-vitamins, and selenium.
Egg yolks from pastured chickens contain higher levels of vitamin D and carotenoids—antioxidants that give those yolks their deep orange color and provide you with many benefits from eyes to immune system support. (10)
7. Nuts and Seeds
Seeds and nuts have a lot of health benefits. They contain fiber, protein, B-vitamins, antioxidants, omega-3, vitamin E. Seeds contain lignans, a polyphenol, which has weak hormonal action and has been shown to be protective for breast cancer and lower your risk of heart disease.
Almonds are great at balancing cholesterol and walnuts, in particular, have been shown to play a potential role in preventing Alzheimer’s, boosting memory, and reducing depression.
Both are great at normalizing the stools, balancing cholesterol and helping regulate hormones from the healthy omega-6 (GLA) fats. (11, 12)
Nuts and seeds are sometimes considered controversial because they contain phytate/phytic acid. Phytic acid is considered an “anti-nutrient,” which can bind minerals and prevent them from being absorbed (calcium, magnesium, zinc, etc. ).
However, phytic acid also has health benefits being an antioxidant, protecting against kidney stones and cancer. In a balanced diet, foods with phytic acid will rarely cause concern. If you predominantly eat foods with phytic acid, then there may be more chances for issues with mineral imbalances.
If you are concerned about the level of phytic acid you may be getting, because you consume a lot of grains, beans, tubers, seeds and nuts, there are a few ways you can prepare foods to reduce it. Soaking, sproutin, and fermentation will reduce the phytic acid level in these foods.
Combining any of these methods of preparation, say soaking and fermenting, will enhance phytic acid reduction even more. Sometimes it isn’t the food that is to blame, but the way you consume it! (13)
Coconut has gotten lots of good press recently and why shouldn’t it with all the health benefits it has. It is a saturated fat that can be used for more high heat cooking which is great because more fragile oils like olive and vegetable based oils are more prone to oxidation when heated.
Coconut has medium-chain triglycerides, which we know are antimicrobial and protects our digestive tract from harmful bacteria overgrowth, as well as provide the body with energy.
Medium-chain triglycerides are perfect fatty acids because they aren’t broken down and rebuilt like some of the long chain fatty acids which can cause health issues. (14, 15)
9. Parmesan Cheese
Specific cheeses can be quite healthy for you if you tolerate dairy well. Parmesan cheese, for instance, is very high in calcium, a mineral that all of us need to keep our bones strong and our muscles healthy. Grass-fed sources of cheese are rich in omega-3 and CLA, similar to other grass-fed dairies. (16)
Many people who cannot tolerate dairy products like milk or soft cheeses find that hard cheeses such as parmesan and cheddar are better tolerated because they are fermented with beneficial organisms.
Be sure to get all dairy, free of hormones and antibiotics. You don’t need that stuff in your body!
1.) Harcombe Z, Baker JS, Cooper SM, Davies B, Sculthorpe N, DiNicolantonio JJ and Grace F. Evidence from randomized controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Open Heart. 2016; 3(2): e000409. Published August 2016. Accessed December 28, 2016.
2) Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, and Krauss RM. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar; 91(3): 535–546. Published March 2010. Accesssed December 26, 2016.
3) Dutchen S. Inside Life Science: What Do Fats Do in the Body? National Institute of General Medical Sciences. National Institute of Health. Published December 2010. Accessed December 30, 2016.
4) Kummerow FA. Interaction between sphingomyelin and oxysterols contributes to atherosclerosis and sudden death. Am J Cardiovasc Dis. 2013; 3(1): 17–26. Published February 2013. Accessed January 2, 2017.
5) Kearns CE, Schmidt LA, Glantz SA. Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-1685. Published September 2016. Accessed December 28, 2016.
6) The World’s Healthiest Foods. Whfoods.org. Accessed December 30, 2016.
7) Pimentel FA, Nitzke JA, Klipel CB, de Jong EV. Chocolate and red wine – A comparison between flavonoids content. Food Chemistry 120 (2010) 109–112. Published September 2009. Accessed December 24, 2016.
8) Masterjohn C. Fatty Acid Analysis of Grass-fed and Grain-fed Beef Tallow. The Weston A Price Foundation. Published January 2014. Accessed December 28, 2016.
9) Abels C. Pasture-raised vs. grass-fed: What’s the difference? Humaneitarian. Published September 2013. Accessed January 1, 2017.
10) Mulhollem J. Research shows eggs from pastured chickens may be more nutritious. Penn State’s Dairy Cattle Research and Education Center. Published July 2010. Accessed January 3, 2017.
11) Ros E. Health Benefits of Nut Consumption. Nutrients. 2010 Jul; 2(7): 652–682. Published June 2010. Accessed December 30, 2016.
12) Muthaiyah B, Essa MM, Lee M, Chauhan V, Kaur K, Chauhan A. Dietary supplementation of walnuts improves memory deficits and learning skills in transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014;42(4):1397-405. Published 2014. Accessed December 30, 2016.
13) Schlemmer U, Frølich W, Prieto RM, Grases F. Phytate in foods and significance for humans: food sources, intake, processing, bioavailability, protective role and analysis. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Sep;53 Suppl 2:S330-75. Published September 2009. Accessed January 1, 2017
14) Amarasiri WA, Dissanayake AS. Coconut fats. Ceylon Med J. 2006 Jun;51(2):47-51. Published June 2006. Accessed December 30, 2016.
15) McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ. Lauric acid-rich medium-chain triglycerides can substitute for other oils in cooking applications and may have limited pathogenicity. Open Heart. 2016 Jul 27;3(2):e000467. Published July 2016. Accessed December 30, 2016.
16) Cheese, grass-fed. World’s Healthiest Foods. Whfoods.org. Accessed January 3, 2017.
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