Eat your egg yolks, stock up on butter and put down the low fat milk - there are some new food rules in town.
How can butter be back on the menu?
As you have probably heard, saturated fats have recently come under scrutiny, as new evidence comes to light regarding their link (or lack thereof) to heart disease. A recently-published article in TIME Magazine explains that we may have been misinformed in our quest to eat well, after decades of being told to favour margarines, low-fat dairy and egg whites, as well as grains overall.
However, research shows that certain saturated fats, once shunned from the menu, are in fact harmless. Other factors, such as our higher intake of certain carbohydrates, are most notably to blame for our nation's obesity epidemic and increasing incidents of heart disease and diabetes. Fats found in foods like olives, some meats and fish can actually protect against heart disease, and concerns of cholesterol levels in foods can now be considered a thing of the past. Measuring insulin (blood sugar), inflammation and triglyceride fat levels (the major type of stored body fat) are, in fact, more important indicators of good health.
This may seem like new and confounding information for many, but sources say the science has been there all along, yet was misplaced amidst the 'low fat' propaganda which dominated the health world in the early 80s. By eating more refined carbohydrates (those found in low-fat foods like biscuits and pastas) and low-fat labeled foods (such as milk and yoghurt), the makeup of the body changed, storing calories as fat and intensifying hunger. “Hunger is the death knell of a weight-loss program. A low-fat, low-calorie diet doesn’t work”, quoted Dr Eric Westman, director of the Duke Lifestyle Medical Clinic.
A 2008 study conducted in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at 300 subjects who were on either low-fat, low-carb diets or on high-fat Mediterranean-style diets. The study revealed that those on the high-fat diet lost more weight than those eating low-fat foods.
In fact, a 2010 meta-analysis (essentially a study of several other studies) found that there was no significant evidence that saturated fat can be associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
So what types of fats we should be including in our diet:
Grass fed red meat
Not to be confused with grain fed meat, which is higher in omega 6, a fat that has been shown to promote inflammation and contribute to heart disease. Grass fed meat, on the other hand, contains beneficial saturated fats, as well as high amounts of omega 3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory and have a protective effect against heart disease. Additionally, new research has identified a particular strain of fat in grass fed meat known as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which have been shown to be beneficial for body re-composition and weight loss efforts. Luckily for Australians, grass fed meat is available at all supermarkets and butchers, so stock up!
Most people don't immediately consider fish when they think of fat, but did you know that fish actually contains more omega-3 fats than it does protein? As these are the most important type of fats for us, then be sure to add sardines, salmon and mackerel for the best omega 3 sources.
Full fat dairy
As we have discussed before, low fat dairy is often full of added sugars, which are the very things we can't metabolise, and what research shows us contributes to inflammation and heart disease. Full fat dairy also contains beneficial saturated fat, as well as CLA, and can actually aid in weight loss. Many nutrients crucial for our bone health are also fat soluble, meaning they cannot be absorbed from their low fat counterpart, and need to be consumed from full fat sources. Full fat dairy gives the body a hefty dose of probiotics, which are crucial for gut health and immunity. Remember that you'll need to adjust your quantities of dairy accordingly, and look for brands that are unmodified, without added sugars or artificial agents.
Butter and coconut oil
These are two fantastic saturated fats ideal for cooking, baking, and heating in general, as they are what we know as 'heat stable'. This means that they don't oxidise and hydrogenate when heated, becoming trans fats in the process. Science now tells us that these man made 'trans fats' are another major contributor to heart disease, and the type of fat we should aim to avoid altogether. Trans fats are also used as a bulking agent in processed, packaged and refined products, so read your labels carefully! It's best to leave your olive and other similar oils for salad dressings, and replace with something heat stable for cooking. Coconut oil has been shown as beneficial to health, due to a particular strain of fat known as 'lauric acid', which is anti-inflammatory. Definitely one to put back in the pantry and fridge.
Choose free range where possible, and never separate the yolk from the white again (unless you’re making meringues or a fluffy sponge cake!). We now know that there is no link between eggs and heart disease, and that they in fact have a positive effect on health overall. Additionally, eighty percent of the nutrients are found within the yolk, and the human body can’t actually absorb the protein within the white without the yolk present. Restock your fridge pronto!
So - the real deal about fats, and their pivotal role within a healthy diet. Here's to enjoying flavoursome, satisfying and hearty meals from now on!