How Saturated Fat Could Help Your Heart

Diets low in fat and saturated fat can actually increase your risk of heart disease. But a high fat diet isn't necessarily the solution either.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
Episode #375

While diets that are very low in fat and saturated fat may reduce LDL cholesterol readings, they can also decrease the number of big fluffy particles and increase the number of small dense particles. That's exactly the opposite of what you want to do. And although eating saturated fats in the form of meats, eggs, full-fat dairy products, and coconut oil may cause your LDL numbers to go up, it may also increase the size of the LDL particles, which is a good thing.  

So, did we have the entire thing backward? Is limiting saturated fat actually bad for your heart? That's certainly the position of those who advocate diets that are extremely high in fat, especially saturated fat. But I'm not suggesting such an extreme reversal.

For one thing, this research is still fairly preliminary. We need more data to understand how genetics and other risk factors or health conditions play into this. We need to study the long-term effects of diets that are higher in saturated fat on people with and without other heart disease risk factors such as obesity or Type 2 diabetes.

There is no super-food so super that we should eat it to the exclusion of all other foods.

More importantly, whenever we take our diet to extremes, whether it's extremely low-fat or extremely low-carb or any other extreme, we increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies and imbalances. There is no super-food so super, nor wonder-nutrient so wondrous, that we should eat it to the exclusion of all other foods and nutrients. Our bodies really do thrive on balance and variety.

See also: How Important Is a Varied Diet?

What's the Right Amount of Saturated Fat?

While I'm convinced that saturated fat doesn't have to be assiduously avoided, why jump to the other extreme? There is a middle ground between complete avoidance and excessive intake—and that goes for total fat as well as saturated fat.

See also: How Much Fat Should You Eat?

Diets that are extremely low in fat tend to be high in carbohydrates. Now if all of those carbohydrates are in the form of legumes and brightly colored fruits and vegetables, that's usually a pretty good thing. More often, though, a lot of those carbohydrates are in the form of grains and refined carbohydrates, and that's definitely not so great.

Replacing calories from refined carbohydrates with calories from fat is usually a good thing. Practically speaking, I'm suggesting that you might be better off putting a fat pat of butter on your vegetables and skipping the dinner roll, or going with full-fat yogurt and skipping the low-fat blueberry muffin.

See also: The Truth About Whole Grains

But I also think it makes sense to eat both saturated and unsaturated fats. That way you get the benefits of both without the risk of overdoing either. Practically speaking, I'm suggesting that your diet might include moderate amounts of butter and olive oil, cheese and avocado, walnuts and coconut.

See also: What's the Optimal Ratio of Saturated and Unsaturated Fat?

What's Your Take?

Do you strictly limit your fat or saturated fat intake? Do you go out of your way to choose saturated fats? Post your questions and comments below or on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page.


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show. 

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