Saturated Fat: A Killer or Not?

Diet & Weight Loss

This is a topic that I have sat on for some time, mainly because the media have been all over it and opinions have been going back and forth. However, I was eventually drawn into writing this article because of an experience in my work recently; I was educating a group about fats and was interrupted by a patient stating that butter is good for us and I was wrong to tell people to avoid or limit it. They were quite insistent and it required all my diplomatic skills to respond and move past the point. Afterwards I reflected on the experience and realised that many people might feel this way due to the recent (relatively) debate around the effect of fat, especially saturated fats on heart health.

 

So what’s all the hype about saturated fats?!

You’re likely already aware but to summarise…fat has long been blamed for causing heart disease, and in particular saturated fat; international guidance pushed for a reduction in total fat and saturated fat intakes with swaps to unsaturated (poly and mono) fats. So far no surprises, but in the last couple of years rumblings began about the evidence behind this stance, and in short order several studies and meta analyses came out which appeared to contradict our long held beliefs(1,2,3); namely saturated fats have no impact on heart disease risk, and that the guidance on reducing fat intake was based on unfounded research!

Some commentaries and media organisations took this further and suggested we had been lied to or that the carbohydrates were the real killers.

 

So what’s the real story?

To preface, as a Dietitian (yes there is no C) I am required to follow evidenced-based guidelines and best practice, this can appear to sometimes lag behind the latest research and trends/fads but for a good reason.

I had heard the news stories and read up on the topic when the topic resurfaced over a year ago… but I didn’t change my practice or advice!  Why you might ask?

Well the obvious answer is because the guidelines haven’t changed; but maybe they’re lagging? Well, that’s where best practice can step in… but no, that hasn’t changed either and neither has my own personal opinion.

 

…Why not?  You ask.

 

It’s because of what the media missed (through no real fault of their own), is that the underlying message from the studies is that more research and evidence is needed before any real conclusion can be made, and certainly before guidance is changed. Such was the confusion that many of the authors of the studies issued statements to try and clarify the situation; from the British Heart Foundation:

At the moment UK guidelines encourage us to swap saturated fats for unsaturated fats. You might have seen reports about a recent study we helped to fund which suggests there’s not enough evidence to back the current UK guidelines on the types of fat we eat. We think more research is needed before suggesting any major changes to healthy eating guidance.

 

So what does this mean?

 

Well it might turn out that saturated fat isn’t as bad as we all feared but hold off on eating that bacon and cheese sandwich full of butter.

It would be unwise to think that the claims that saturated fat is healthier than we previously thought, provides some sort of answer to our current health crisis. If your already obese and don’t exercise, eating more saturated fat and less sugar is not going to solve your problems.

The issue is further complicated because our overall health is affected by many factors; saturated fats being only part of an equation that includes almost every diet related public health message out there.

 

Why is this?

1. For starters, we don’t eat foods in isolation and many people avoiding saturated fat replace them with equally unhealthy foods.

2.Secondly, fats are twice as high in kcals as other food groups and it’s easy to over consume on a high fat diet and become overweight or obese, which increases heart disease risk. As our national rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease show; with ischemic heart disease a leading cause of death in the UK.(4)

3. Thirdly, a diet high in animal products (a major source of saturated fats) can be a risk factor for cancer.

4. Finally, processed meat products are high in salt, which is a risk factor for heart disease.

 

For now though, the UK Guidance for a cardioprotective diet is:

  1. No more than 30% energy from fat and less than 7% from saturated fat/day*.
  2. Replace saturated fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats.
  3. Aim for 2 servings of oily fish per week.

 *66g of fat and 15g of saturated fat/day based on 2000Kcals.

 

The bottom line, don’t take news stories at face value and appreciate that scientific studies are designed to be read by scientists who can fully evaluate the results; that’s not to dissuade you from taking an interest and reading up on nutrition, and I would recommend the following article: Is butter really back? It was written by the school of public health at Harvard, which does a great job of explaining the situation.

 

 

Article written by: Alex Risby BSc, RD
Feature image source: Krivochenco_Flickr

 

References:
1: Patty W Siri-TarinoQi SunFrank B Hu, and Ronald M Krauss (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/91/3/535 (accessed May 2015)
2: Chowdhury et-al 2014. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis, http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=1846638 (accessed may 2015)
3:Harcombe et-al (2015).  Evidence from randomised controlled trials did not support the introduction of dietary fat guidelines in 1977 and 1983: a systematic review and meta-analysis:  http://openheart.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000196 (accessed may 2015)
4: ONS 2014.Mortality Statistics: Deaths Registered in England and Wales (Series DR), 2013 : http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/vsob1/mortality-statistics–deaths-registered-in-england-and-wales–series-dr-/2013/stb-deaths-registered-in-england-and-wales-in-2013-by-cause.html#tab-Leading-Causes-of-Death-in-2013

“Tread with Caution- Gluten-Free Is a Fad” A Reader Response

Diet & Weight Loss

Hello everyone! Thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule today and stopping by our blog! Before you begin to read this post, please visit our friends over at theCountyfare.net. They’re a lovely, family-orientated nutrition-based site fully supporting and supplying everyone with evidence-based nutrition advice. They wrote this fantastic article on Gluten-Free (GF) diets last week that prompted us to write a response… only it turns out we actually had a lot to say!

Which is exactly what’s brought you to our blog today; this post shows our views and mutual agreements with thecountyfare concerning gluten-free diets.

Before we continue, we would like to quote thecountyfare regarding this topic “…I want to make very clear that one’s being incorrect on or unaware of the underlying science does not make him a bad person or a dumb person….I hope no one will take this article as a personal criticism – I’m attempting to criticize an idea here.”

 

Now that we have gotten that out of the way, let’s get chatting!

 

 

Firstly, we would like to say what an outstanding post guys! To sum it up in one word… Agreed! For non-coeliac sufferers, the ‘gluten free diet’ is a fad.

You only need to enter the search terms: gluten free diet + weight loss into an internet browser to see how out of control another fad diet has become. Is it unprecedented? …No.

When it comes to nutrition people seem to think that just because we all eat, we can all be experts and everybody has an opinion and sometimes strong convictions. Unfortunately these opinions can be born out of ignorance and misinformation which is often the result of cyclic promotion amongst outspoken individuals, who resort to the online equivalent of playground yelling with their dime a dozen SEO snippets.

The truth of the matter is that there are too many people supplying us with unregulated health advice.

 

Gluten Free Diets And Weight Loss

Anyone opting for a ‘gluten free diet’ as a weight loss tool will ultimately lose weight by reducing kcals. Here’s what the British Dietetic Association (BDA) says in their article entitled “Top 5 Worst Celebrity Diets To Avoid in 2014” in which Gluten free Diet was number 3 “While important for those with coeliac disease … there is no credible published research showing that a gluten-free diet per se leads to weight loss in those without.”

 

What a gluten free diet can do is make it easier to lose weight because it can be very restrictive; but this isn’t a good thing:

1. A lot of people will cut out staple carbohydrate sources going down this path, e.g. pasta, breads, cereals etc. but do not find suitable replacements…possibly because they think they need to buy like-for-like (but GF products are pricy, so they don’t)…however, legumes, pulses, potatoes, millet, buckwheat, rice etc. are all naturally GF folks.

 

2. People typically end up cutting out a lot of processed foods in the process, e.g. all of their usual take-aways, cakes, biscuits and doughnuts etc. become off limits; empty calories that would normally expand anyone’s waistline become a thing of the past. However, there are always exceptions; people might substitute cakes for GF ones or make GF / ‘Paleo desserts’ themselves, some of which are full of coconut flour and sugar (this completely contradicts the Paleo diet in the first place!). We’re adamant that you wouldn’t see any cave men hunting ‘cakes’ or grinding up coconuts into flour and refining sugar in order to bake a cake in their imaginary ovens!

 

3. For reasons mentioned above! This new restrictive diet can be a tool for those with disordered eating behaviours (and possibly a full blown eating disorder) to fashionably lose weight under the pretence that they have gluten intolerance. Apart from medical professionals, who is willing or capable of challenging their views and diet? As one of these medical professionals I can tell you it’s not easy.

 

 

Responding To thecountyfare’s Article

Nutrition Is A Science…

(One that we have both studied) and it needs to be respected. We need to refer to evidence and studies to form relevant arguments and points as is made clear in the article by thecountyfare.

Frustratingly, even with the structured evidence that science provides, people will continue to have polarised views on what’s healthy and how they should live their lives; shutting down conversations that make them uncomfortable and/or where they are unable to back up their views with anything substantial and/or relevant.

Some people will unfortunately always argue science, even when it’s in black and white; a lot of people do not like facing change.  As mentioned, science isn’t perfect, nor does it have all the answers…but some people (when approached with new concepts) will always react as if there is some conspiracy taking place.

Most people are perfectly happy to use prescribed medications, despite the fact that almost all the research on them has been carried out by the companies that intend to sell them to us. So calling into question the ethics of researchers in nutritional subjects is a little hypocritical; whatever happened to approaching things carte blanche?

Understandably we should question the motives of the researchers and investigate possible vested interests, but it would be grossly unfair to dismiss out of hand decades of research just because of who may or may not have picked up the cheque.

 

‘Weight Loss And Feeling Better’

The ‘Paleo guy’ would have undoubtedly lost weight on a diet that was low kcal, low-fat, high protein and low G.I, and we’re sure he would have felt better (losing 60lbs would do that!).  However, the concept of feeling better than 10 years ago is such an ambiguous and subjective statement that it’s rendered almost meaningless; with the foibles that memory has, you can’t compare the state of your mind in this way over the course of one month let alone a decade.  This is one reason why subjective measurements in research are always considered second rate to physiological measurements, i.e. blood tests.  This is linked to the ‘nocebo effect’ that was discussed.

 

‘I’m Getting Everything I Need’

thecountyfare makes another good point, unless this guy has blood tests or strictly monitors and analyses his diet, he cannot evaluate his overall diet/health with confidence- no one can. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) will only request vitamin and mineral analysis on an ‘as needs basis’ and only if you can convince your GP, so the majority of people will not have these types of tests; you’ll be lucky if they go for routine blood tests. Unfortunately people seem to take matters into their own hands and do their best to avoid healthcare professionals and needles!

Now some people may use nutritional databases such as the USDA one here  and calculate their nutritional intake, but this is very time consuming and to further complicate matters there is the issue of bioavailability and optimal absorption;  put simply, this is how well micronutrients are digested and made available for use.

The body tightly regulates the absorption of some to prevent toxicity, which can mean high dose supplementation is a waste of money.  Even from food sources micronutrient absorption can be impaired by competing micronutrients and other foodstuffs, not to mention that some micronutrients come in different forms depending on the food they are found in and these forms are absorbed at different rates.  To call the matter complex is an understatement but it does highlight why you can’t be blasé when claiming ‘to get all you need’.

 

Gluten Free Promotion

The science is there to support why people need to be GF (as a coeliac) but not as a ‘gluten free fad’. As it stands, people’s lives seem to be governed by GF propaganda and overpriced GF products; there is no need for this. As thecountyfare mentioned, there seems to be a monopoly over who sells what.  It’s ridiculous how many GF products are now available; it’s true, companies saw a market and now they are cashing in… on people’s concerns and laziness.

These companies have also started producing products that are not only GF but dairy free (DF), egg free (EF) and/or  Vegan (V) as well, in the hope that their products will ‘appear’ even healthier. Unfortunately some of us might not realise that something that is GF, DF, EF and/or V can still be unhealthy and inappropriate. This can confuse the matter and adds to these ‘diet trends’.

 

Seek Advice

Living in ignorance about your health isn’t bliss and nor is pretending you have all the answers. For example, a simple blood test for coeliac disease could provide a diagnosis (if someone has enough antibodies), but the gold standard is still a bowel biopsy (at least in the UK).

For those that have symptoms and are concerned, the worst course of action (as with all health conditions) is to self-diagnose and self-treat, due to the risk of misdiagnosis, e.g. putting yourself on a GF diet for six months and then paying a visit to your doctor to request blood tests. This would be an exercise in futility; blood tests would show a skewed result because there would be fewer antibodies present, giving you a false negative; this might result in you having a more cavalier approach to a GF diet, rather than the total exclusion required.

We’re not saying gluten intolerances do not exist and the studies mentioned in the article raise some interesting points (especially regarding FODMAPs), people just need to seek their healthcare professional’s advice. Unfortunately, using Google (other search engines are also available!), fad diet books or your own hypochondria to base health decisions on is not a great idea.  We agree that it’s incredibly irritating and potentially harmful if these people start spreading their misguided information regarding nutrition; this is where fads of eating 100 bananas a day come from. We wish people would stop producing ‘trendy diets’ and that celebrities could make do with one less wheelbarrow full of cash and stop endorsing them!

Coeliac disease is a complex topic, and one we won’t go into now; we plan to write about it on our own blog in the future.

 

Our Closing Thoughts

We would like to mention that we have never advocated a trending ‘gluten free diet’, but we do offer it as a choice through our recipes because as we have mentioned, coeliac disease is a very real condition. The quality of GF products haven’t been the best in the past and everyone should be encouraged to bake/cook from scratch (these are essential life skills for a healthy lifestyle/healthy living) whether you have a food allergy or not.

Adapting any alternative lifestyle (especially going WFPB) requires you to plan ahead; making sure your diet is nutritionally adequate. People need to reflect on the choices they make; are they making informed ones? …What is influencing their decisions?

Every pill, supplement or diet going isn’t necessary going to produce the life-changing results they desire, it may also be inappropriate and isn’t necessarily backed by scientific evidence; although companies like to take snippets from studies sometimes out of context to sell products.

 

So thecountyfare is right folks, tread with caution indeed.

 

Article written by:
Alex Risby BSc, RD and Lynn Risby BSc, Nutritionist

A New Year’s Resolution: Weight Loss & Healthy Living

Diet & Weight Loss

Well, it’s that time of year again…yes, where everyone reflects on the previous year and contemplates changes; weight loss and creating healthier lifestyle choices normally making it into the ‘top ten’! Perhaps its your New Year’s resolution? Are you feeling hyped and positive going into 2015? … All ready with your new ‘kick-ass’ healthy-living regime to create a healthier you?! Perhaps you are now the ‘master of your temple’ and no one is going to stand in your way…not even yourself? If you answered yes, what is your plan of action?

 

Photo by: Israel Byrne_Flickr

Weight loss and living a healthier lifestyle should resonate further than a ‘New Year’s resolution’ though… because we deserve that much right? To be healthy and happy for more than 2-3 months of the year? Of course we do! But if you think it’s a simple process, think again (I’m not saying this to discourage you, I just think it’s better to be open and honest). If it was easy to lose and maintain weight loss, there wouldn’t be such an obesity epidemic!

 

Negative behaviours learnt over decades can take ages for us to convert into positive ones…but it is possible. It’s not a perfect system and we have to be able to accept the highs with the lows of this new journey that we’re about to embark on… and of course, how weight loss works. For example, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “you can’t out-exercise a bad diet”…well you can’t change unhealthy habits until you can explain and accept what is causing them in the first place either!

 

Successful weight loss stems from a combination of controlling your actions & emotions…

 

The 5 Building Blocks For Successful Weight Loss

  1. Motivation: You might of have had a recent health scare or received unsolicited comments from your family or friends… but unless you are motivated for healthy changes and a better quality of life (maybe this requires you to ask for help & support?), you’re not going to change your unhealthy habits…period!
  1. Exercise regime: Firstly, do something you enjoy, your more likely to stick to it. Making time to exercise (with a realistic schedule) will aid weight loss and create a healthier body and mind; check out my previous article for fitness guidance. The more you exercise…the better you’ll feel….and eventually you’ll start seeing positive changes that will motivate you to keep it up…but you know that this is only part of the healthy living/weight loss equation.
  1. Healthy Diet: Weight loss requires a daily reduction of calories. You can’t out exercise a bad diet…. So do not treat your body like a human dust bin and expect to be the epiphany of good health! Do you know anyone that spends an hour in the gym a few times a week and still eats takeaways, sweets and drinks alcohol because they think they have created the perfect energy balance? How do they look? Are they a model for healthy living?

Calories in vs. calories burned folks! Even if you reduce your calories throughout the week and have a big ‘blow-out’ (you know, the “I allow myself to eat anything for a day”)…might be enough to undo all your hard work! To loss 1Lb a week you must burn 3500kcal through diet and exercise….so everything in moderation. Enough said!

4. Self-analysis: It’s your rational, explanation and acceptance ….why are you overweight? Why are you changing your lifestyle? If your emotions are running high they can reek havoc on your lifestyle choices… not addressing your: overeating at meals, how your emotions trigger mindless eating, secret binge habits that are possibly followed by hours of exercise to try and counteract it, or induced vomiting will not create the ideal environment for change….you are more likely to fall back into old lifestyle regimes.

You can’t expect weight loss to make you happy (thin or overweight, everyone has problems and concerns) and equally you cannot eat to try and suppress your emotions…

It’s important to address your mental health. Your mind is essential organ like everything else. If your heart or kidneys were sick, would you not seek intervention? Why not do the same in this instance?

  1. Commitment: You love the results, but do you know how to keep the momentum going? You have to plan ahead to help instil your positive lifestyle changes and commit to making these changes ‘permanent’; keep them small and practical to keep yourself motivated!

 

 

 

10 Reasons Why Weight Loss Regimes Fail

Photo by: Anitarium Nutrition Team_Flickr

 

 

1. You do not take the time to plan ahead, e.g. preparing healthy lunches, making time for  exercise, meditation etc.

2. Unrealistic goals/expectations: being too fixated on numbers or body shapes, e.g. losing a stone in one week and wanting to look like a super model is non-sense, as is assuming dieting alone will rid you of fat and cellulite.

3. Your emotions: Not trying to fix/address the underlying reason(s) why you are fat, overweight, unhappy etc and thinking weight-loss will make you instantly happy.

4. Lack of knowledge: about healthy foods/portion sizes and exercise.

5. Lack of support and/or pressure from: family, friends, work colleagues and the media (a.k.a horrible gossip magazines pushing the latest skinny celeb!)

6. Refusing to incorporate exercise.

7. Too restrictive! Not eating enough and the lack of nutrients will cause hunger and inevitably, unhealthy food cravings & binges takes over.

8. Undesirable physical side-effects, e.g. G.I problems (constipation, diarrhoea, bad breath) or mental decline (fatigue, irritability, brain fog, headaches or mood swings) due to (see number 7!).

9. You make the age-old mistake…you view it as just another fad diet or crazy ‘detox’ and not a lifestyle change.

10. Cheating in the kitchen, e.g. relying on ready meals or convenience foods (even ‘weight watcher’ ones) and do not try to learn essential cooking skills to maintain a healthy lifestyle (beyond your initial weight loss) through the acquired knowledge of ‘healthy foods and portion sizes’.

 

Ways to stay motivated, kick-butt & keep living a healthier lifestyle!

 

Weight Loss & Healthy Living Tools

Photo by: Yacine Amirl Flickr

 

  • Embrace changes and the lows and highs of your journey.
  • Ultimately we are our own worse enemies when it comes to sticking to healthy lifestyles… so stop making excuses and standing in the way of your own success!
  • Keep a weight loss diary. Record your food intakes, moods, exercise and body measurements. This can allow you to reflect on changes, possible set-backs and what stimulates your food choices.
  • Exercise! Make a plan, whether it’s using your local leisure centre, walking to work, only using stairs and not the escalator or a running app on your mobile to help motivate you….
    • Eat a healthy breakfast: set your mind, body and metabolism up for the best day possible!

      Photo by: Brent Hofacker Flickr

 

  • Knowledge of healthy foods and where to source them in your local town. Try cooking in advance, prepare your own lunches and snacks to avoid temptations at work.
  • Kitchen essentials: to prepare and  store healthy foods, e.g. tupperware, a blender, slow cooker, food processor, low-fat cookbooks etc.
  • Do not use foods at ‘treats’. Save for a holiday, new clothes, a down payment on a house….create positive choices and reinforcements (that will not cause weight gain) and reduce negative temptations and old habits.
  • Keep temptations out of the house! Its simple and the so many of us can vow for this (myself included). Its all about portion control …and sometimes that means making something very scarce!
  • No restrictive ‘diets’! Eat an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables and source: lean meats, fish, nuts, legumes, pulses and whole grains. Why not even try going vegetarian or vegan for a month? Veganuary anyone?! 

    Photo by: Helga Weber Flickr

 

  • Have a ‘Stress Outlet’, e.g. meditation, dance class, a spa day with your friends…something that will distress your mind and body…balancing hormones, mood, diet & a better quality of sleep= weight loss.
  • Create a support network! Have one in place consisting of friends, family, your GP, dietitian or recognised nutritionist or even weight loss club etc. It needs to consist of the people that are going to encourage, motivate and offer you support with your new journey!
  • Bedtime routines! Eat your main meal 2-3 hours before bed, wind down 1-2 hours before bed and create the perfect temperature, lighting etc. in your bedroom that will enable an ideal night’s rest (preferably for 7-8 hours!).
  • Read daily/weekly, do puzzles! Keep your mind active and prevent mental decline!
  • Photo by: Paul Bence Flickr

  • Being mindful of existing medical conditions, e.g. diabetes, PCOS, heart disease. Learn how to support and treat them through healthy lifestyle interventions.
  • Focus on body measurements rather than what your bathroom scale says.
  • Give your old, ’fat’ clothes to a charity shop because you won’t be needing them anymore!
  • Keep hydrated! Check out my other article for quick tips on hydration. 
  • Health ‘M.O.T’s’: Try and overcome any fear of needles and get your cholesterol, blood glucose and standard blood work checked… because ignorance isn’t bliss.

    Photo by: Gemanji Flickr

  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘NO’ to people! Whether it’s to their office baked goods or meeting them after work at a pub…especially if it interferes with your new lifestyle choices, e.g. tell them you’ll meet them for a quick bite after you go for your nightly jog! If they have a problem with this, then its something that they can reflect on….maybe they will realise they should be exercising more themselves!!

 

Major life changes…whether it’s weight loss, creating healthy living habits, planning for a family or saving for a house….these major milestones/events all require planning because they face potential hurdles, hardships and problem solving ahead!

If you stumble at the first hurdle, just pick yourself up from that moment and move ahead. Do not dwell on your failures; people are always too quick (by nature) to put themselves down. Praise yourself every step along the way and remember nothing is impossible if you really desire and work hard for it….especially now that you have the tools for success!

 

If you have any questions regarding the following information, please feel free to drop us a line.

 

Thank you for all of your kind thoughts and support this year. 

 

Article written by: Lynn Risby
Feature image by: Faycel fx_Flickr