Yet another sensationalised diet headline surfaced last week when a meta-analysis of a number of studies looking at heart disease risk factors reported that there was no link between saturated fat in the diet and heart disease. Unfortunately, in the media that report tends to translate into, ‘eat whatever you like, pile on the butter and coconut oil and all will be dandy. If only things were so simple.
Food and nutrition is complicated and just because one study has analysed data in a particular way does not make things absolute. Specifically when it comes to saturated fat, one of the biggest issues is that these studies do not control for diet quality, or what people are actually eating. Sure, a celebrity chef may be able to consume butter freely in his cooking, but as his diet is likely low in processed foods and often calories in general, this in fact is more likely the reason his weight and heart are in good nick, not the saturated fat intake. Unfortunately the average punter does not tend to eat so well, rather plenty of processed foods and fat in general tends to be consumed, along with plenty of refined carbohydrates, both of which are linked to weight gain and disease risk over time.
There is not one factor that causes heart disease. Rather it is a complex interplay of genetics, lifestyle choices over a number of years, diet quality as well as nutrient intake, weight control, stress and physical activity. For this reason, adding butter to your toast will not cause heart disease, but a lack of fruits and vegetables, too much fat and/or two much of the wrong type of fat, carrying weight and not exercising may, then it may not – there are no absolutes, only the statistic that more than 50% of Australian adults do have heart disease and that lifestyle factors are linked.
So, the best thing to do practically is to minimise your risk – control your weight, generally via a calorie controlled, fat controlled diet. Exercise, make good food choices where you can and minimise stress. Avoid processed foods and be mindful that saturated fats, particularly those from processed foods are not good for us, whether they increase heart disease risk or not. It does not take a meta-analysis of studies to tell you that fruit and vegetables, fish and wholegrains are good and refined carbohydrates and processed fats are bad – use your common sense.
So before you use these sensationalised headlines as an excuse to load up on the butter, rather than focus on one simplistic aspect of diet, focus on your overall diet quality. Sure, if you overall fat intake is low, and if you are active, you can probably get away with full cream milk and some butter. But if you are struggling with the kg, controlling your intake of high calorie foods including butter, full cream milk and coconut oil is still likely to be your best option.