The most important thing is to know the source of fats you choose and the rest of what you typically eat make a big difference.
Dr Eric Rimm, professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says that for more than 40 years, the American Heart Association, the federal dietary guidelines, and other nutrition authorities have shifted away from advising people to limit the total amount of fat in their diets.
He said that instead of that, the focus has been on an overall healthy dietary pattern, which means an eating style that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans, along with only modest or small amounts of meat, dairy, eggs, and sweets.
Rimm added that the reality is that eating more whole or minimally processed, plant-based foods will naturally lower your intake of fat, especially saturated fat.
Found mainly in meat and dairy products, saturated fat can boost levels of harmful LDL cholesterol, a key contributor to heart disease. But simply cutting back on all types of fat does not necessarily translate into a diet that lowers cardiovascular risk.
Showing that low-fat diet fails, the professor said back then in the 1980s, when food manufacturers and consumers cut the fat from their products and diets, they replaced it with refined carbohydrates.
People filled up on bread, pasta, low-fat chips and cookies, and low-fat sweetened yogurt. Eating lots of these highly processed carbohydrates floods your bloodstream with sugar, triggering a release of insulin to clear the sugar from your blood. But that can push your blood sugar too low, leaving you hungry again after just a few hours, which encourages overeating and weight gain.
What’s more, a steady diet of these unhealthy carbs can eventually impair your body’s ability to respond to insulin, which can lead to diabetes. Both obesity and diabetes are closely linked to a heightened risk of heart disease.
But eating too many refined carbs wasn’t the only problem. Avoiding unsaturated fats — those found in nuts, seeds, olives, avocados, and fish — isn’t necessary. Not only do these foods make your meals more satisfying and tasty, unsaturated fat promotes cardiovascular health.
What about cases of ultra-low-fat diets? Rimm further stated that some physicians advocate an ultra-low-fat diet, which includes just 10 per cent of calories from fat. This diet excludes all animal-based products (such as meat, poultry, dairy, and fish), as well as refined carbohydrates (including white flour, white sugar, and even fruit juice). But it also shuns some healthier unsaturated fats, including added oils and high-fat, plant-based foods such as avocados and nuts. Small studies have shown that this eating pattern may actually reverse the buildup of cholesterol-clogged plaque in the arteries.
At least some of that benefit may stem from the abundant fiber and other nutrients in the diet’s copious amounts of vegetables, beans, and whole grains, all of which are fairly scarce in the typical American diet. The only problem with an ultra-low-fat vegan diet is that it’s very challenging for most people to stick to over the long term. “If you are among the 1 per cent of people who can, may the Force be with you,” says Dr Rimm.
For everyone else, a Mediterranean-style diet offers the best of both worlds a plant-centric diet that’s not overly restrictive (see “Simple steps to a Mediterranean-style eating plan”). “The Mediterranean diet doesn’t require extreme eating habits that make it difficult to socialise with other people,” he said. What’s more, he added, it tastes good and has the best evidence from long-term clinical studies for lowering a person’s risk of heart disease.