One area where we, as health professionals, have done a good job at confusing the public is on the topic of fat.
One reason is that it is difficult to design, recruit and complete a good nutrition study.
Secondly, there are a lot of food industries impacted by these recommendations, so we try keep our language neutral (and therefore vague). The reality is that all foods we consume are a blend of saturated and unsaturated fats, and most foods can fit into a healthy diet, if eaten in moderate amounts.
So what are the current recommendations for adults?
“Eat 20-35 per cent of your calories from fat.” This translates to 45-75g of fat per day for a 2,000 calorie diet. For reference, a tablespoon of oil or butter has 12 grams of fat. While a variety of diets that are considered healthy, this recommendation is based on the observation that very low-fat diets tend to be too high in refined carbohydrates and very high-fat diets tend to be too high in saturated fat.
“Reduce trans-fats” (to as low as possible).
In clinical studies, trans-fats have been shown to lower your good cholesterol, raise your bad cholesterol and increase your relative risk of heart disease, stroke and death.
Common sources of trans-fat: vegetable oil shortening, hydrogenated margarine, commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods such as chips, crackers and microwave popcorn.
“Reduce saturated fat.”
This is the party-killer: cheese, meat, fatty dairy products, butter, chocolate… use these in moderation. Specifically, less than seven to10 per cent of your daily calories or about 20 grams for a 2,000 calorie diet (A tablespoon of butter has seven grams of saturated fat). Too much saturated fat increases your bad cholesterol. On a positive note, it may also raise your good cholesterol.
“Emphasize mono- and poly-unsaturated fats”
These are highest in your vegetable oils (olive, canola), non-hydrogenated margarines, nuts and seeds and fish. These fats are believed to help protect your heart. Replacing saturated fat with these fats has been shown to have a cholesterol-lowering effect.
Choose your vices and eat them in moderation
Think about “how much, how often.” If you prefer cream in your coffee to milk, but use little and only drink one cup a day, no big deal. If you drink coffee all day long, this may be a problem.
“Low-fat” does not mean “healthy” or “eat as much as you want.”
– Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.