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Target saturated fats when you’re cutting fat

Our bodies need some fat to function properly, but we don’t need saturated fats.

Saturated fats are fully hydrogenated. That’s why butter softening on the counter keeps its shape. Hydrogenation is what can lead to clogged arteries, increased insulin resistance and increased inflammation.

Instead we need the good fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil or canola oil. Or we need to eat nuts, seeds and avocados. These foods contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats that help lubricate our arteries, joints and nerves.

The American Heart Association and the federal government’s 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee agree that we should limit the saturated fats in our diet. The Heart Association recommends just 5 to 6 percent of our calories, which is 12-14 grams per day for most Americans. That’s around two tablespoons of butter or two ounces of cheddar cheese. The Dietary Guidelines recommend no more to than 10 percent of calories or 20-22 grams per day.

For more than 30 years, scientific studies have proven that saturated fats are detrimental to our health. In the 1980s, the message was that Americans should limit total fat intake to less than 30 percent of our daily calories. In order to avoid confusion, saturated fats and good fats were lumped together. The theory was that by limiting total fat, saturated fat intake would fall. Instead, the food industry created low-fat and fat-free products that are high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates. This caused new health issues.

The best plan is to replace foods high in saturated fat with those that have polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fats or the complex carbohydrates found in vegetables and whole grains. Saturated fat will not cook out of meat.  It is the tough stuff that hangs in there. It is the good fats that drip out during cooking.

Most saturated fat comes from cheese, pizza, grain-based desserts like cookies and dairy-based desserts like ice cream.  Together these foods comprise 31 percent of our saturated fat intake.  Other sources are red meats high in fat, sausages, chocolate and coconut oil.

Recent debates about saturated fats have been fueled by the food and dairy industries. When research hits those industries’ bottom line, they fight back by funding their own research to promote their cause.  “This is about politics, not science,” according to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University.

After almost two decades of caring for people with heart disease and other heart conditions, I believe in the recommendations of scientists with the American Heart Association and support limiting saturated fat.  There is no proof that these fats are healthy, only scientific proof that they can be unhealthy. Limit your saturated fat “for the health of it.”

When I encourage people to decrease saturated fat I often hear that butter is natural so it must be healthier. My answer is arsenic is natural but we do not feed it to you.  Natural does not always mean healthy. I also hear that coconut oil is healthy and there is very little heart disease in countries that use a lot of coconut and coconut oil.  My response is those countries eat a diet with lots of fruits, vegetables and fish. They probably eat very little red meat and cheese. Their lifestyle also helps ward off heart disease. Coconut oil has a lot of saturated fat and has been shown to increase the bad cholesterol.  Research on its benefits has been very limited.

Here are some tips to help cut saturated fat:

  • Limit your consumption of butter, which has 7 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon. Use olive oil or canola oil for cooking and baking. Try peanut butter on bread or dip your bread in olive oil.

  • Snack on nuts or fruits instead of candy or baked goods, such as cookies and cake.

  • Try hummus or peanut butter on crackers instead of cheese

  • Put more vegetables on your sandwiches instead of cheese.

  • Eat less red meat and choose loin or round cuts, which have less saturated fat.

  • Choose more fish and poultry instead of red meat.

  • Limit chocolate and choose only dark chocolate with more than 50 percent cocoa, which has more phytonutrients to offset the damage of saturated fats.

Here are some simple substitutions to reduce saturated fat in your diet:

High in saturated fat

Low in saturated fat

Butter - 7 grams per tablespoon

Coconut oil – 11 grams per tablespoon

Canola oil – 1 gram per tablespoon

Olive oil – 2 grams per tablespoon

Peanut butter - 1.5 grams per tablespoon

Cheddar cheese - 6 grams per ounce

Hummus – 0 grams per 2 tablespoons

Vegetables – 0 grams per ½ cup

Light mozzarella cheese stick – 1.5 grams

Large Dairy Queen chocolate extreme blizzard -

28 grams

Dairy Queen fudge bar - 0 grams

Johnsonville Italian sausage - 8 grams per link

Al Fresco Italian chicken sausage - 2 grams per link

Prime rib - 30 grams in 8 ounces

Beef tenderloin steak -  4 grams in 5 ounces

Fresh, grilled chicken breast -  1 gram in 5 ounces

Pork tenderloin - 1 gram in 5 ounces

80% lean ground beef – 8.5 grams in ¼ pound

93% super-lean ground beef - 3.2 grams in ¼ pound

Pizza Hut “Meat Lovers” thick crust personal pan pizza - 18 grams

Papa Murphy’s thin crust chicken pesto pizza – 7.5 grams in 2 large slices

Burger King Double Whopper with cheese - 22 grams

Burger King Whopper Jr. without cheese - 5 grams

Hershey’s 1.5 ounce chocolate bar – 8 grams

¼ cup roasted almonds – 1 gram

Klondike original ice cream bar – 13 grams

Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bar – 0 grams

*Nutrition information from company websites or the USDA Food Database.

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