I am so lucky. I happen to dislike the taste of butter and cheese….really dislike it. Putting aside the rather heated and current health discussion surrounding a new study and high-saturated fat foods, like butter, these foods also happen to be high in calories. Despite their rich texture and satiating flavor, they’re often consumed with little regard to portion control. They also often pair up with high sugar and high sodium foods (bread and butter anyone?).
So I’m lucky because my waistline is thankfully not challenged by these two foods. And because I don’t happen to like the taste of rich, buttery foods, I also don’t have to personally grapple with the interpretation and resulting health implications of a recent new study (meta-analysis) involving saturated fats (fatty acids). Health reporters, chefs, foodies even frustrated dieters grabbed onto this new study like the ultimate gift. Hence the shouting from the rooftops, “butter is back – butter is OK – butter is not bad for you – long live butter.”
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news--actually the truth--but that’s not exactly what the meta-analysis or the conclusions from the new study really suggested. In fact, the study, as I understand it, referred to different fatty acids and Western diets with higher and lower levels of saturated fat and other fats.
The new study did not provide new information. Since it was a meta-analysis, investigators merely extrapolated information from a pool of prior published studies. The investigators were comprised of an international mix of researchers. Their starting premise was that our current daily dietary guidelines emphasize limiting saturated fats (actually specific fatty acids) in order to optimize heart health.
Actually, when we look at current dietary guidelines, they emphasize several food habit recommendations, not just one singular suggestion. In the case of current guidelines, recommendations include reducing the consumption of certain fatty acids (trans fats and saturated fats and omega-6 fatty acids), and also reducing the consumption of processed and added sugars and sodium. The guidelines also emphasize eating a variety of whole foods -not just isolating out consumption of specific nutrients. Consumers, especially Americans, often select a specific nutrient or food group to feature prominently in their diet, based on trending opinions. Guidelines tend to have a list of do’s and don’ts.
Specific questions the investigators explored
First let’s recognize that there are different fatty acids – saturated, monounsaturated, and the polyunsaturated group which includes omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturates.
The new meta-analysis compared different fatty acids and how consumption of each affected rates of coronary artery disease. Of 500,000 individuals involved in the observational studies that were reviewed, there was more coronary artery disease among those who ate the largest levels of trans fats, compared to those who consumed the least amount of trans fats. Among those who ate omega-3 fats, those who consumed the most omega-3s had lower rates of heart disease compared to those who consumed the least. These two findings are not surprising, since we know trans fats are considered “the worst fat offenders” in terms of clogging our arteries and causing inflammation, and omega-3 fats are considered somewhat heart-healthy.
The investigation also found that monounsaturated fats seemed to bestow some small measure of heart health as well. The next finding is the one people grabbed on to without a clear understanding. There seemed to be little appreciable difference in people who consumed the most and least amount of saturated fat, when it came to heart health, BUT there seemed to be a hint that more heart disease occurred with higher levels of saturated fat consumption. I draw these conclusions after reading the meta-analysis results with some doctor friends, and also after reading some well-regarded columns on the study.
The meta-analysis also looked at the intervention studies. About 100,000 people received an omega-3 supplement and a smaller group received another kind of polyunsaturated fat. The results showed little difference between all types of polyunsaturated fat consumption and heart disease rates. There did appear to be a small statistical difference, specifically among those taking fish oil capsules.
Amy Hendel is a Physician Assistant and Health Coach with over 20 years of experience. Noted author, journalist and lifestyle expert, she brings extensive expertise to her monthly shareposts. Her most recent book, The 4 Habits of Healthy Families is available for purchase online, and you can watch her in action on her showsFood Rescue and What's for Lunch? Sign up for her daily health tweets or catch her daily news report at www.healthgal.com.
Published On: April 06, 2014