Fat Myth—Busted

Grab a Starbucks strawberry scone in the morning and by the time you arrive at work, you've blown your saturated fat allotment for the day. That's according to the U.S. Government's new advisory report-a precursor to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines comimg out later this year. It's also what the American Heart Association recommends.

Saturated fat has been on the food terrorist list for a while (code name "heart attack on a plate.") So it was quite a shock when, earlier this year, research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found otherwise. The authors reviewed 21 studies involving 347,747 people, looking for the link between eating saturated fat and the risk of heart disease, and found... nada. Now, if you're a suspicious sort, you might note that some of the funding came from the National Dairy Association (butter, cream, and cheese being poster foods for saturated fat). But the authors-and the National Institutes of Health, which also provided support-went further to ask a good question. Hey, they wondered, when people cut saturated fat, what are they replacing it with? You've still got to eat.

Going back to the scone, an obvious replacement would be a bagel, right? Zero sat fat. Or, swap a McDonald's large frappe mocha-which also blows a whole day's worth of the culprit fat-for the sweet ice tea.
But guess what? We'd be leaping straight from the fatty frying pan into the cardiac fire.
The authors found that you only get a health benefit if you replace the saturated fat with "good fat"-the kind in olive and canola oil, nuts, avocados, fish, and peanut butter. If you fill the calorie gap with refined carbohydrates (i.e. the plain bagel or the 13 teaspoons of sugar in the Micky D's tea), you increase your odds of heart disease. Even further, a newer study at the Harvard School of Public Health shows replacing bad fats for good ones actually decreases the cardiac disease risks. And that's why, when you read the new dietary advisory report's fine print, along with limiting saturated fat to less than 7 percent of total calories, it specifies "substituting instead, food sources of mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids."
Just to make sure, we called a few highly-placed docs:

Mehmet Oz, MD, heart surgeon and host of the "Dr. Oz Show"

"I tell my patients, and my family that replacing saturated fats (which are solid at room temperature) with polyunsaturated fats (which are liquid at room temperature) reduces the chance of hardening of the arteries and the resulting heart attacks and stokes. But replacing saturated fats with refined carbohydrates worsens the risks by causing obesity, diabetes, and abnormal cholesterol values."

Nieca Goldberg, MD, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and author of Dr. Nieca Goldberg's Complete Guide to Women's Health.

"Everyone's been so fat-focused, they've ignored the association between simple carbohydrates and cardiovascular risk factors. The real takeaway message of the study is about eating the good elements of all food groups-the good fats and the good, whole-grain carbs."

David Katz, MD, director and founder of Yale University's Prevention Research Center and of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT.

"Even with saturated fats, keep in mind that not all are created equal. For example palmitic acid (in butter) most certainly contributes to cardiovascular disease, whereas others like stearic acid (in chocolate) almost certainly do not. We're still learning."

For more about the science of healthy eating...
8 New Food Rules
14 Easy Ways to Cut 100, 250, 500 Calories a Cay
5 New Ways to Deal With Food Cravings

[Photo Credit: Getty Images]