There is now strong evidence that carbohydrates are the baddies in the war against obesity, heart disease and diabetes. So where does this leave the well established theory about saturated fat and how it not only increases our weight but is also responsible for heart disease?

In a nutshell research is now telling us to do the opposite to what we have been told to do in the past in order to stay healthy. Back in the 70's when the treatment of cholesterol became popular; doctors took a very simplistic view believing that dietary saturated fat led to body fat. You only have to look around you to see that the eating recommendations that occurred as a result of this theory have had devastating effects upon our health and the prevalence of diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

Saturated fat was once blamed for heart, cholesterol and obesity problems and we were encouraged to eat less meat and more carbohydrates (eg bread, cereals). But now multiple studies are revealing that this was all wrong! One such 2010 study reviewed the evidence around this subject (Astrup, A. et al, Am J Clin Nutr: 2011 Jan 26) and found that “replacing saturated fat with carbohydrates does not reduce the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), and may even increase the risk “. (Dairy Nutrition News April 2011)

The fat that we do need to be concerned about is Trans fat that is found in margarine. The risk of coronary heart disease does is increased with the intake of trans fatty acids. Trans fats have been made by a heating process that changes the chemical structure of the fat to make it solid but soft. As mentioned in a previous article, Trans fats are commonly found in commercially manufactured products especially bakery items.

As well as containing damage Trans fats processed products such as bread, cereals, pastries, pasta etc. have other health related issues. Because these foods are nutrient poor, a person consuming these foods on a regular basis is likely to be deficient of the important antioxidants. We know that these antioxidants are important for overall health, but they are also significant in the fight against heart disease. This is because it is not the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol that is the problem, but the oxidation of the LDL cholesterol.

As evidence comes to light about the effects of oxidized LDL, and the problems associated with excess carbohydrates intake, we will no doubt see the list of ingredients in products such as bread, muesli bars and cereals, modified to ensure the continuing sales of these products . Some companies are already adding protein, vitamins and minerals to their products, in the hope that the public will perceive them as “a healthier food choice”. An example of this is new cereals that are coming out with added protein. Given that proteins primarily come from animal sources and that cereals are carbohydrates, the reality is that this will make little difference to our health.

For good health my advice is to:

  • Stick to a fresh, whole food diet. This means avoiding processed carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, processed Cereals, pastries and cakes.
  • Aim to achieve the ratios of 40% carbohydrates (including vegetables & some fruit), 30% protein and 30% good fats with each meal.
  • Good fats should include olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, rice bran oil to name but a few. Adequate fat will reduce inflammation in the body.
  • Protein sources should include eggs, meats, fish and small amounts of dairy and nuts. If you are vegetarian you may need to assess whatever you are getting adequate protein and consider using a protein shake.
  • Ensure you are getting adequate antioxidants such as vitamin E and C as this is another key to avoiding heart disease and the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
  • And if a product says “low fat” read the label carefully as you will more than likely find that it has had sugar added to enhance the flavor was lost when the fat was removed.

By adhering to a fresh, whole food diet, much like that ateen by our ancients, you will achieve better control of your weight and the marks of heart disease and diabetes.