The recent media blitz around butter and health or even cheese and heart health can make it very difficult to know – what should I eat, how much is okay and are these foods okay in an eating plan aimed at promoting heart health?
Science is constantly evolving and this is why dietary recommendations can, and do, change but what is important to remember is that single studies should never be the trigger for eating behavior changes. In light of a recent conference, where I was a sponsored attendee, there was a session on this topic so it is very timely to talk about dairy fat and health.
Starting at the beginning, the issue with dairy fat is that science has long looked at animal fats – meat, poultry, eggs and dairy fat – for the amount of saturated fat that they contain. Saturated fats have long been shown to be triggers for elevated LDL, or bad, cholesterol which is a risk factor for heart disease. Dietary guidelines throughout the world have been developed based on this evidence and all currently recommend some level of limitation of saturated fat. All fats, whether saturated or unsaturated, are made up of a variety of fatty acids so most foods contain a mix of saturated fats and a mix of unsaturated fats, often you will hear them referred to as fatty acids. What has long been known is that different fatty acids act differently in the body and therefore have different impacts on blood cholesterol. However, since we eat foods and not individual fatty acids, dietary guidance has long been focused on the impact of the whole food on health or on the risk of heart disease.
With all of this background where does that get us on the issue of dairy fat and health? The bottom-line right now is that different saturated fatty acids affect our blood lipid levels differently with most causing not only an increase in levels of ‘bad’ LDL, but also in concentrations of HDL, the good cholesterol. Some small scale studies have shown little impact on heart disease mortality when the saturated fat consumed was from dairy foods, and from cheese in particular But more studies are needed to determine if the impact is related to the cheese consumption or to the saturated fat content of the whole diet. When discussing how to include foods that contain saturated fat in the diet the key is what foods you consume in place of them and right now the evidence points to including plant fats – nuts, oils and seeds – in place of saturated fatty acids. If you love cheese, you can include it in a heart healthy eating plan but you need to know how to balance the saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats and talking with a Registered Dietitian might be a good idea to achieve that goal.
The adage might seem trite but all foods can fit in a healthy eating plan it is a matter of portions, balance among the foods and remembering that no food will offer magical health benefits or be the single cause of disease. #fatfacts #registereddietitiancanhelp #dairyfatupdate #communciatesoundscience