Low-Fat Isnt Always Healthier, Nutrition Experts Caution


If you want to eat a healthier diet, cut out the fat-right? Wrong, according to experts at the American Dietetic As- sociation (ADA) Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, in a panel on The Great Fat Debate. If you replace dietary fat, even saturated fat such as butter and whole milk, with sugar and other carbohydrates, you could actually be increas- ing your risk of heart disease.

Tufts Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of the HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory, told attendees, The emphasis should be on displacing saturated fat and trans fat with unsaturated fat because that is what the data supports. Particularly in the 1990s, she said, the popular media advice unfortunately was simplifed from displace saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat to low fat.

That oversimplifed low-fat message remains pervasive, Lichtenstein added. Indeed, a 2008 survey by the ADA found that 78% of consumers said they had heard a lot about low- fat foods-the most commonly cited topic among 13 food and health options surveyed.

Other experts on the panel called for eliminating total fat numbers from Nutrition Facts panels. It may even be, they said, that slightly higher-fat diets-if the fat is unsaturat- ed, as in liquid vegetable oil-are actually healthier, especially compared to diets high in refned carbohydrates.

The panel agreed on the importance of overall dietary quality, rather than obsessing about increasing this nutrient or reducing that nutrient. Lichtenstein concluded, We need to stop focusing on individual macronutrients, because when one goes down, another goes up. We need to focus on achiev- ing and maintaining energy balance and encouraging better overall choices that will result in diets that contain a moderate amount of healthy fats and are rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low and nonfat dairy products, legumes, fish and lean meats.

March is National Nutrition Month,a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the American Dietetic Association. Heres what the association recommends to start your own march to healthier living:

  • A healthy eating plan emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or fat- free dairy and includes lean meats, poultry, fsh, beans and nuts. A healthy eating plan is also low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars.
  • Make calories count by thinking nutrient-rich rather than good or bad foods. Be aware of portion sizes. Even low-calorie foods can add up when portions are larger than you need.
  • Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, canned or frozen. Look for locally grown produce thats in season. Vary protein choices with more fsh, beans and peas. Include at least three servings of whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.
  • Balancing physical activity and a healthful diet is your best recipe for manag- ing weight and promoting overall health and fitness.

American Dietetic Association, <www.eatright.org>


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