Saturated Fat Affects More Than Your Cholesterol
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
Recent studies remind us that the
goal of eating less fat should focus on saturated fat.
Washington, D.C. - American Institute for Cancer
Research - In the past, experts warned against saturated fat because of
its direct relationship to LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol and heart disease
risk. Now research suggests that too much saturated fat may be
problematic, even if your cholesterol isn't high, because of its possible
effects on insulin functions, potentially raising the risk of diabetes,
cancer, ovarian disorders and other health problems.
Surveys suggest that American adults consume on average
about 12 percent of their calories from saturated fat. However, the
Advisory Committee for the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans
recommended a maximum target of 10 percent of calories for most adults.
This target translates to 20 grams (g) per day for the average adult,
which you can calculate by adding grams of saturated fat listed on food
labels. People who are smaller, less active, or trying to lose weight,
would have an 18 g daily limit, while those with higher calorie needs
could eat 24 or 25 g per day.
The traditional way of seeing whether these suggested
limits reduce a person's saturated fat intake enough has been by measuring
LDL blood cholesterol levels. Each percentage-point drop in saturated fat
consumption generally reduces LDL by one to two percent. Cutting saturated
fat from the current average to 10 percent would lower blood cholesterol
by two to four percent. People whose blood cholesterol levels remain high
- even while meeting this goal - may need to reduce their saturated fat
intake even further, which would mean a maximum of 12 to 18 g per day.
One of the new studies that links saturated fat
consumption with problems in proper functioning of insulin suggests that
initially too much saturated fat might decrease the pancreas's secretion
of insulin. Less insulin might then cause a chain of events that leads to
over-production of insulin, resistance to its functioning and ultimately
to the most common form of diabetes.
When high insulin levels become established, a host of
other problems seem to develop. One problem is polycystic ovarian syndrome
(PCOS), which can cause fertility problems, irregular menstrual cycles and
skin problems. An estimated 6 to 10 percent of all women have PCOS. Other
problems include an increased risk of some cancers and possibly increased
cognitive problems similar to Alzheimer's disease. Although these
consequences could make you afraid to eat any saturated fat, studies seem
to show that the cancer risk relates mainly to very high levels of
saturated fat. For now, you should simply aim for amounts that keep your
blood cholesterol healthy.
To reach the recommended levels of saturated fat, on
average Americans need to cut 5 to 10 grams of it from their daily food
choices. There are many ways to achieve this reduction. Each time you
exchange a deck-of-cards-sized portion of a higher-fat red meat for lean
red meat, seafood or skinless chicken, you cut at least 5 grams of
saturated fat. If your meat portions are larger than a deck of cards,
reducing them to this size will eliminate even more. For each ounce of
regular cheddar or other high-fat cheese you replace with lowfat cheeses,
you slash saturated fat by 5 grams. A cup of 1% or skim milk instead of
whole milk will save you 3 to 5 grams. Two teaspoons of soft margarine or
olive oil instead of butter will get rid of more than 3 grams.
These small changes may give you far more than better
blood cholesterol. You may find yourself enjoying better overall health.
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