Saturated fat = Belly fat, bad cholesterol, and worse
You’ve been hearing the message for years: For a healthy heart, you must cut back on butter, whole milk, juicy meats, and other foods laden with saturated fat. Eating saturated fat increases "bad" LDL cholesterol and leads to cardiovascular disease. That’s why it may surprise you to learn that, in recent years, a few researchers have pointed to an inconvenient truth: Some scientific studies have failed to show that curbing our intake of saturated fat prevents heart attacks.
But don’t start making that bacon-and-cheese sandwich just yet, because this doesn’t mean saturated fat is off the hook. As researchers looked closer at these studies, they discovered that simply eating less saturated fat isn’t the whole solution: how you replace those calories matters. In other words, cutting back on excessive amounts of saturated fat could be a waste of time if you replace it with foods that are equally punishing to the heart. And, as you know now, many people do just that by filling up on white bread, white rice, and other high-glycemic carbohydrates, which raises triglycerides, lower "good" HDL cholesterol, and create other problems in the cardiovascular system.
There are other very good reasons to cut back on saturated fat. For one, studies suggest that your body prefers using the saturated variety to fill out your abdomen. Belly flab is closely linked to high blood pressure, elevated triglycerides, and other scary features of metabolic syndrome. Meanwhile, there is good evidence that replacing some saturated fat with unsaturated varieties (MUFAs and PUFAs) will slash your risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other cardiovascular problems.
What about butter?
Butter isn’t banished, but let’s face it: At more than seven grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, you won’t always have room in your daily fat budget for it, if you’re trying to stay under 20 gams of saturated fat a day. When you really need butter (some dishes just aren’t the same without it), go for just a small pat, which contains two to three grams of saturated fat. If you like to bake cookies, cakes and pies, you probably consider butter a must. If so, try mixing it with a trans-fat-free margarine to keep down the saturated fat content of your baked goods.
If you mostly use butter for spreading on bread or toast, consider using whipped butter. It won’t work in baking or most other recipes (heat causes it to melt too fast), but for cold uses, it’s the healthier choice. Trade a tablespoon of regular butter for the whipped variety and you’ll spare yourself 35 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat.
Trans fats: Heart-stoppers and belly-busters
Doctors may debate which form of fat’MUFAs or PUFAs’is best for your heart, but there’s no disagreement over which one is worst. Trans fats are by far the most dangerous form of fat for the cardiovascular system. Some experts estimate that if these bad fats suddenly disappeared, the number of heart attacks worldwide would drop by 20 percent almost overnight.
Furthermore, disturbing new research suggests that trans fats may even be a major hidden cause of obesity.
A tiny amount of trans fat’representing 0.5 percent of calories or less in most diets’occurs naturally in dairy foods, beef, lamb, and some other meats. (And at least one study found that naturally occurring trans fats don’t increase the risk for heart disease.) But the overwhelming source in most diets is partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is vegetable oil that has been treated to give it a semisolid texture. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil offers foods a longer shelf life, which is one reason processed food manufactures like it. Your heart, however, doesn’t. Here’s a short list of problems you may be experiencing if you consume too many foods packed with these fats.
‘ High levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol especially small, dense LDL particles that appear to be especially damaging
‘ Low levels of “good HDL cholesterol
‘ Elevated triglycerides, a dangerous type of blood fat
‘ High levels of Lp(a) lipoprotein, a molecule in the blood that may increase the risk for heart attacks
And that’s not all. Some studies suggest that trans fats spark chronic inflammation in the body and cause damage to the lining of blood vessels. It’s no wonder that researchers estimate that widespread cutbacks on trans fat could prevent about one in five heart attacks.
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