Navigating high-fat foods is a slippery slope (or, perhaps better described as a greasy pole). Advice about high-fat foods slides back and forth, but what’s myth, and which points are facts? Here’s what research knows about high-fat foods and your health.
Eating too much fat can leave you feeling sluggish, cause digestive discomfort, and increase the risk of disease. Plus, some of the popular high-fat diets may be linked with an increased risk of obesity, dementia, diabetes, and certain types of cancer by research. But, that doesn’t mean all high-fat foods are unhealthy. In fact, research shows eating certain high-fat foods may even save your life.
No, the secret is knowing which high-fat foods you should eat. Avoiding fatty foods altogether could lead to nutritional deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins (e.g. vitamins A, E, K). Plus, avoiding fatty foods can leave you desperately hungry. That’s been a major flaw of recent dietary recommendations: many people cut back on saturated fat but then filled up the gap in their diets with processed carbohydrates (sugar). Eating ultra-processed foods has been linked to chronic disease risk by Canadian researchers.
The type of fat a food contains matters. Eating trans fats which are created in the production of many processed and fried foods is best avoided: studies show they are associated with a greater risk of all-cause mortality and coronary heart disease. Saturated fats found in animal products are also linked by scientists to higher risks of mortality, heart disease, and cancer.
Much debate exists around this topic in recent years. Dietary cholesterol which is found in high-fat animal-based and fried foods, has long been linked with heart disease. However, more recent evidence suggests the problem may be saturated and trans fats. As most foods that contain saturated fats also contain cholesterol, there isn’t a clear-cut direction around foods considered to have healthy attributes, such as eggs.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids found in high-fat plant foods (e.g. avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish) are considered to be healthier fats. In fact, researchers suggest eating lots of polyunsaturated fat is linked with a lower risk of death, heart disease, and cancer. You can make a healthier swap: trade in unhealthy high-fat foods (fried, processed, animal) for healthier options, such as nuts, seeds, olives, or fish.
Interestingly, tofu is considered a high-fat food as about half of the total calories come from fat However, tofu is a healthy choice. Tofu contains no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat. Plus, tofu helps lower cholesterol: soy contains isoflavones which help to lower cholesterol and improve endothelial function (the lining of blood vessels that control blood pressure and flow).
Tofu also contains heart-healthy plant sterols, a type of plant-based compound that has a similar structure to cholesterol and is thought to help by blocking some of the absorption of cholesterol from the gut. Tofu is a healthy food: studies show tofu may improve blood pressure, lower inflammation, improve blood sugar balance, as well as lower both LDL and total cholesterol.
It’s confusing to know how much of which fat you should eat. First, a shift in thinking is needed. The fat-fearing nutritional guidelines of last century left many people feeling fat-phobic. Yet, as science has shown, including healthful polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from plants and seafood sources can be a part of a healthy dietary pattern. How much fat you should eat is an individual choice and a Registered Holistic Nutritionist can help you navigate.
Registered Holistic Nutritionists are graduates of the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition.
Check Out These Blogs:
A healthy approach to dietary fats: understanding the science and taking action to reduce consumer confusion. Nutr J 2017; 16:53.
The effect of dietary fat consumption on Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis in mouse models. Translational Psychiatry 2022 July 22; 12: 293.
Inflammatory links between high fat diets and diseases. Front Immunol 2018 Nov 13.
Dietary cholesterol and the lack of evidence in cardiovascular disease. Nutrients 2018 Jun; 10(6): 780.
Beyond the cholesterol-lowering effect of soy protein: a review of the effects of dietary soy and its constituents on risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Nutrients 2017 Apr; 9(4): 324.
Plant sterols and plant stanols in the management of dyslipidaemia and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Atherosclerosis 2014 Feb; 232(2): 346-60.
Soy isoflavones lower serum total and LDL cholesterol in humans: a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials. Am J Clin Nutr 2007 Apr; 86(3):809.
Intake of saturated and trans unsaturated fatty acids and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. BMJ 2015; 351: h3978.
Association between dietary fat intake and mortality from all-causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies. Clin Nutr 2021 Mar; 40(3):1060-1070.
Contributed by Allison Tannis
Known for her deliciously geeky words, Allison’s articles and books are read around the world by those curious about where to find the most delicious (and nutritious) places to stick their forks. More at allisontannis.com. Follow @deliciouslygeeky.