Is the saturated fat in butter and bacon good for you? Will going gluten-free help fight fatigue and depression? Is losing weight out of your control?
If you’ve been following the nutrition headlines this year, you may feel more confused than ever about what to put on your plate. Check out the bottom line on the some of the biggest and most baffling health stories of the past 12 months so you can ring in the next year on the right foot:
A study published in the British Journal of Medicine in August prompted a surge in news reports that might have lead you to believe you could put saturated fat – the type that’s often referred to as the “bad fat,” typically found in foods like butter, red meat, cheese and full-fat dairy – back in the “good for you” category. The study’s meta-analysis found that saturated fat was not linked to heart disease or overall mortality. Bring on the bacon and more cheese please … right?
The bottom line: Not so fast. Randomized trials, which make a stronger case for cause and effect, reveal that reducing saturated fat intake cut the risk of heart disease by 17 percent. That data, along with hundreds of other studies, is why The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee still recommends that Americans limit saturated fat intake to no more than 10 percent of daily calories – about 22 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet.
The amount of fat you eat and the type are equally important. Studies show that replacing saturated fat with sources of unsaturated fat like seafood, nuts, seeds, canola and olive oil can lead to a healthier heart.
For optimal health, eat fewer full-fat dairy products, limit fatty meats and fried foods and use oils that are low in saturated fat and high in monos and polys, such as canola, safflower or sunflower. You can use canola oil, which is the seed oil lowest in saturated fat and highest in omega-3s, in place of butter or shortening when baking to reduce saturated fat without affecting the texture of flavor of dishes.
Why are Americans losing the battle against obesity? Judging by some recent news stories, everything from faulty genes, out-of-balance gut bacteria, a lack of sleep, a sluggish thyroid, excess stress, endocrine disruptors and even your date of birth are to blame. The take-away message: Losing weight is not your fault and is out of your control.
The bottom line: Sure, your genes and many environmental factors have a significant influence on overweight and obesity, but that doesn’t mean eating right and getting daily activity can’t help you achieve and maintain a healthier weight. Throwing in the towel because you believe your weight is out of your control is the worst thing you can do.
While there’s no one-size-fits-all regimen that works for everyone, decades of researchshow that a combination of calorie reduction and regular exercise does result in weight loss. So before you blame your microbiome or environmental chemicals, assess your food intake and exercise habits.
A good place to start: Become more mindful of portions. In recent decades, portion sizes in restaurants, supermarkets and even our homes and cookbooks have skyrocketed. Studies show that heaping portions (served on huge plates) have created a new norm for how much we eat. Most people will “clean their plate” even when they would feel full from eating less. A helpful strategy to limit portions is to downsize your cups, plates and bowls. It could help you eat less without feeling deprived.
It seems like every week, there’s another news article touting the wonders of going gluten-free. Proponents claim that eliminating gluten, a protein found in certain grains, can help get rid of extra pounds, acne, fatigue, migraines, depression and a host of digestive disorders, to name a few. So isn’t it time you hopped on the gluten-free bandwagon?
The bottom line: Despite the hype around the many benefits of avoiding gluten, there’s no good reason to eat a gluten-free diet if you don’t have a medically diagnosed allergy or sensitivity. The vast majority of shoppers buying gluten-free bread, crackers and flour aren’t allergic of sensitive to the protein. In fact, a recently published study in the journal Digestion found that nearly 90 percent of those who thought they were gluten-sensitive could tolerate it with no negative effects.
What’s more, following a gluten-free diet may even put you at risk for developing vitamin deficiencies. In fact, an Australian study reported that more than 10 percent of men and women following a gluten-free diet had inadequate intakes of thiamin, folate, magnesium, fiber, iron and calcium. So unless you’ve been medically diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there’s no health benefit to removing the protein from your diet.