Swap saturated fats with healthier substitutions

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Swap saturated fats with healthier substitutions

Each day, every one of us makes choices when it comes to eating. One area, all of us can do our health a favor, is to reduce our intake of saturated fat.  

What are saturated fats?

There are several types of fats found in our food one of which is saturated fat.

The chemical structure of a saturated fat is one in which there are no double bonds between carbon molecules since they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.  Foods containing saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature.  This type of fat is associated with increasing blood cholesterol levels and decreasing “good” or high density lipoprotein cholesterol in the body.  This can result in raising our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke.

Saturated fats occur naturally in many different foods.  Keep in mind many foods contain a mix of fats.  Most saturated fats come from animal sources such as dairy and red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb. Even foods such as chicken, fish, nuts, and oils do contribute some saturated fat to the diet but they are much lower in saturated fat than other types of foods. 

Recommendation for saturated fat intake

Eating too many foods in saturated fats can be bad for your health. Currently, the American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories coming from saturated fat.  As an example, if a person requires about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of those calories should come from saturated fats – that’s about 13 grams of saturated fats allowed each day.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans has a slightly different take on saturated fat.  It recommends limiting calories from saturated fats to less than 10% of the total calories you eat and drink each day. That’s about 200 calories for a 2,000 calories diet.

Why should saturated fats be reduced?

In recent years, there have been conflicting studies on whether saturated fat is to be avoided or embraced. The most important thing to remember is how your diet looks when compared to an overall healthy eating plan.  Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle in regards to your health.  Eating lots of foods with saturated fats is questionable while it’s hard to argue the numerous health benefits of consuming foods without saturated fats such as fruits, vegetables, and beans. If a person cuts back on saturated fats but replaces them with refined carbohydrate foods made from white flour, sugar, white rice or drinking sugary beverages, yes, your health will still suffer.  The key is to replace saturated fats with healthier substitutions. 

One 2016 study from UC San Francisco found that saturated fats cause inflammation which can contribute to metabolic syndrome disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity which are associated with chronic tissue inflammation.  The study found that saturated fats “short-circuit” human immune cells producing an inappropriate inflammatory response.

Another 2016 study from the British Medical Journal found that consuming high amounts of saturated fats, found in red meat, dairy fat, and palm oil may raise the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).  The researchers analyzed diet and health questionnaires from over 73,000 women and 42,000 men over a period of more than 20 years.  Those consuming higher intakes of the most commonly consumed major saturated fatty acids (lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, and stearic acid) had a 24% increase in CHD. By replacing 1% of calories from saturated fat each day with equivalent calories from poly- and monounsaturated fats, whole grains, or plant proteins was estimated to reduce risk by 6-8%.

How to reduce saturated fats

Reducing saturated fats can be tough but it is not impossible.  We can’t eliminate saturated fats entirely from our diet since foods that are good sources of healthy fats like olive oil, peanuts, or salmon, also contain a small amount of saturated fat.  Certain other foods, however, such as red meat, and full-fat dairy are some of the main sources of saturated fat in our diet.  When we reduce our intake of foods such as red meat and full-fat dairy and instead replace them with foods containing healthy fats, then we are well on our way to achieving the recommendation on intake of saturated fats.

Here is a list of some of the most common food sources of saturated fat to eat less often:

·      Regular-fat Cheese

·      Dishes made with many ingredients – like pizza, casseroles, burgers, tacos, and sandwiches – tend to have ingredients that are high in saturated fat

·      Grain-based desserts such as cookies, cake, or pies made with butter, shortening or lard

·      Dairy desserts like ice cream and higher-fat dairy like whole or 2% milk

·      Sausage, hot dogs, bacon, and ribs

·      High-fat meats such as prime rib or chuck roast

·      Butter and stick margarine

·      Fried white potatoes

·      Some tropical oils like coconut and palm kernel oil

The best strategy is not just to limit saturated fats – it’s also to replace them with healthier unsaturated fats.  Focus on getting unsaturated fats from the following:

·      Seafood (like salmon, trout, herring, tuna, and mackerel)

·      Walnuts, almonds, cashews, and most other nuts

·      Olive, canola, peanut, sunflower, safflower, corn, soybean, and cottonseed oils

·      Avocadoes

Other helpful tips to cut down on saturated fats by replacing them with healthier fats include:

·      Cook with olive instead of butter or stick margarine

·      Go for grilled chicken breast (without the skin) instead of fried

·      Have fruit salad instead of ice cream for dessert

·      Grill, bake, or broil lean red meats and poultry without the skin and avoid frying.

·      Replace some of the meat or poultry in your taco recipe with fish, beans, or other vegetables

·      Use less meat and more vegetables to make stir fry cooked with a small amount of oil

·      Limit desserts to special occasions and use small bowls and plates to encourage smaller portions