The changing reputation of fat and cholesterol

Fat is bad, right?  It is highly caloric, adds pounds and inches to the waistline, and is one cause of heart disease.  That is what we have been told for, well, a long time.  And don’t even mention cholesterol.  That guy packed his bags and was chased out of town long ago.

Not so fast. Healthy eating recommendations are changing once again.  It is enough to make a dietitian cry, or at least eat crow.

A new set of Dietary Guidelines will be out later this year, and the advisory committee has published its report for consideration.  These current recommendations are based on better research than in the past.  Here are some of the committee’s recommendations concerning fat and cholesterol.

  • 1.  Replace saturated fat (SFA) with unsaturated fat (PUFA).  This is not really new because we have been prompted for several years to eat less fatty meat and fewer whole fat dairy items, both sources of saturated fat.  In place of those foods folks are encouraged to include low-fat or non-fat dairy, fish, oils, nuts, dried beans, and monounsaturated sources such as avocados in daily eating plans.

Total fat is not considered the issue, but the type of fat is.

  • 2.   Along with the idea above, another recommendation is to eat less red and processed meats.  This will not only improve our health, but that of the environment as well.  Interesting that the committee chose to address the environment.
  • 3.  Do not be overly concerned with dietary cholesterol.  It used to be that the daily limit for cholesterol consumption was 300 mg. Eggs weigh in around 200 mg, so we were advised to limit eggs to one per day. But dietary cholesterol has lost some of its importance as far as heart disease is concerned.

Worthy of note, diabetics are still cautioned to not overdo their cholesterol intake due to heart disease risk.  And blood cholesterol, the type that is measured with blood tests, may still be a concern.  A person’s LDL or low density cholesterol, if elevated, can increase one’s risk of heart disease.

There are other recommendations to limit sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol in our diets.  And the committee is also concerned about young people and their high consumption of caffeinated beverages.

It will be interesting to see how many of the recommendations the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA decide to include in the new Dietary Guidelines.