Are you thinking what to prepare for dinner this afternoon? I am sure you want something healthy and non-fattening. How about a succulent homemade burger or a juicy T-bone steak? These are certainly not the first options that come to your mind when you think of non-fattening foods, are they?

For many years we have been bombarded with the notion that in order to be healthy and greatly reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease we need to stay off saturated fats. Dairy products like cream, butter, cheese as well as fatty, cholesterol- rich foods like eggs, nuts, red meat, bacon should be avoided at all costs; they are a rich source of saturated fats.

We have been brainwashed, if I may say, and ultimately became obsessed with low-fat foods. Still, instead of becoming slender and healthier an epidemic of obesity has been observed. The consumption of fats has been reduced, yet health problems like diabetes, high triglycerides, hypertension has rocketed. How can that be possible?

Are we taking good care of our heart?
Are we taking good care of our heart?

A recent scientific publication by Aseem Malhotra, an interventional cardiology specialist registrar at Croydon University Hospital in London, came to bust the myth of the “unhealthiness” of saturated fats. In his publication he states that “even though scientists universally accept that trans fats-observed in fast foods, bakery products, and margarines- increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, saturated fat is another story. The mantra that saturated fat must be removed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease has dominated dietary advice and guidelines for almost four decades. Yet scientific evidence shows that this advice has paradoxically increased our cardiovascular risks.

People were advised to cut down on their saturated fats intake based on a study made in 1970.  Seven countries took part in that research which concluded that a correlation existed between heart disease, cholesterol levels and saturated fats. A large meta-analysis of prospective studies involving almost 350000 participants, published in 2009, however, found no association between saturated fats and heart disease.

Saturated fats play an important role in our bodies:

  • they are an important part of cell membranes; 50% of them are made of saturated fats
  • heart muscle cells prefer saturated fats

  • bones need them to absorb calcium better
  • they protect the liver from the adverse effects of alcohol intake and medication

  • our immune system wants them to work more efficiently
  • they aid in hormone production like insulin

  • they aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and minerals
  • they make up 54% of the fat in mother’s breast milk

Ongoing, new studies have revealed that saturated fats are actually protective. And the source that they originate from may play an important role busting the myth regarding specific foods.

Food myth buster #1: Eggs

A well designed cholesterol feeding study showed how eggs were falsely accused of increasing cholesterol levels to the point of giving you a heart attack. Results showed that daily cholesterol consumption (2-4 eggs per day) did NOT increase the risk of heart disease.

So, stop eating only-whites omelettes (yikes!) and start eating the real thing as almost all of the essential nutrients in an egg are in its yolk.

Butter - not your enemy after all?
Butter – not your enemy after all?
Food myth buster #2: Dairy products

They are a source of saturated fats but they are also rich in vitamin A and D. Cutting down on dairy foods automatically means less daily intake of those vitamins. What we don’t know is that there is a link associating vitamin D deficiency with increased risk of cardiovascular mortality. Also, the calcium and phosphorus found in dairy foods have antihypertensive properties. So, it is time to re-evaluate our relationship with dairy products.

Food myth buster #3: Red meat

A major source of saturated fat is red meat. The studies, however, that showed a correlation between coronary heart disease and meat were made using processed meats and NOT actual red meat. Processed meats have many additives that people are not aware of, like salt. Eye round roast or steak, round steak and sirloin tip roast are some very good options to get high levels of vitamins A and D, iron, zinc and protein and will keep you fuller for longer following meals.

Food myth buster #4: Low-fat foods

A common thing amongst the food industry is to extract the fat out of the food to make it “healthier”. The minute you do that, though, the food tastes bad. So, in order to enhance its taste and flavor you need to add extra salt and sugars. Both of these additives, which lack all their nutritional benefits due to over-processing, are linked to numerous health problems, including obesity and heart disease.

Enjoying a steak is healthy!
Enjoying a steak is healthy!

If you take a closer look at the nutritional information of “light” mayonnaise in a supermarket shelf, for example, you will see that even though the total percentage of fat is lowered, compared to the original stuff, the percentage of sugars is significantly higher. This isn’t really helping in your try to cut down on your sugar consumption, does it? Studies have shown that women who ate a rich in fat diet lost more weight that their low-fat counterparts. So, maybe it’s wiser to eat a slice of that delicious homemade red velvet cake instead of all that unhealthy low-fat-high-sugar processed stuff after all.

So, we are, often involuntarily, driven towards a rich in sugars and carbohydrates diets in favor of fats. However, high consumption of those, often deriving from rapidly-digested foods such as white flour, white rice, potatoes, sugary drinks, and refined snacks, is a possible factor of the metabolic syndrome (hypertension, dysglycemia, high triglycerides, increased waist circumference and low levels of HDL-good cholesterol).

Sweden has become the first Western country to reject the myth of a low-fat diet and develop dietary guidelines of the high fat, low-carbohydrates diet. For the sake of our health, maybe it is time to also debunk this myth and stick to a Mediterranean diet which, although fat consumption is high, it is proven to keep you healthy and protect your heart. Therefore, feel free to eat a juicy (homemade) burger, ladies, with no regrets!
Lab scientist, sharp dresser and cooking guru Maria is one half of the original founding team. She brings her opinions with earnestness and a smile, even when there are razor blades inside.

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