Can saturated fat actually be healthy?iStock/Thinkstock
For a long time, scientists believed saturated fat—the kind found in meat, full-fat cheese, butter, cow’s milk, ice cream, and palm and coconut oils—was a major cause of heart disease. But that belief has undergone a seismic shift recently.
The current thinking is that saturated fat raises LDL cholesterol, which is bad for your heart. But it also seems to raise HDL cholesterol and lower triglycerides, which is good for your heart. In effect, current research shows that saturated fat can have both a positive and negative impact on heart health.
Bottom line: Whether saturated fat is a better choice really comes down to what you’re comparing it to. When people replace saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fats (found in fish, nuts, olive oil, avocado, and the like) it benefits their heart health. But if they replace them with simple carbohydrates, trans fats, and other unhealthful foods, it’s harmful. Think of it this way: you’re better off eating salmon (rich in unsaturated fat) than steak (which contains saturated fat). But you’re better off eating steak than fried chicken that’s breaded and cooked in shortening full of trans fats.
Should you eat low-fat dairy or full-fat dairy?iStock/Thinkstock
Most nutrition experts recommend skim milk (whole milk with all its fat skimmed off). But there is a growing number of people who think we should give whole milk a second look. Here’s why: When you pour skim milk on your cereal, you are getting a lot of carbohydrates and some protein. When you choose whole milk, you get the same amount of protein, but you also consume fewer carbohydrates because whole milk has more fat, which can also help curb your appetite.
Another common argument against full-fat dairy is that the fat it contains is saturated (which we know is controversial). But new research suggests that when cows are allowed to graze on grass instead of highly processed, nutritionally deficient feed, their milk is more nutritious—and may even cut heart attack risk—when the fat is left in.
Bottom line: If all this leaves you scratching your head, don’t feel bad—I’m scratching mine too. I’m going to keep a close eye on the research. My recommendation for you is to go with what you like once you’ve reached your goal weight, but be conscious of calories and serving sizes if you go full-fat.
Are carbs the enemy?iStock/Thinkstock
When people peddling fad diets say the word “carbohydrate,” they tend to get a sour look on their faces, as if they’ve just bitten into a very tart lemon. The problem with this very black-and-white thinking—that carbs are bad and staying away from them is good—is that it represents an old way of thinking that has been debunked by the scientific community.
When it comes to sugar, white flour, white bread, and many other simple sugars, I agree that you’re better off without them. But you absolutely should be including in your meals vegetables, fruits, legumes, and even whole grains, which some fad diets wouldn’t recommend in a million years. I believe—based on my reading of the medical literature—that cutting out a whole tribe of foods just because a few members of the family are troublemakers makes no sense whatsoever.
Bottom line: Yes, cutting simple carbs helps rev up weight loss. But it’s not necessary to push complex carbs off your plate. You can lose weight and burn fat while still enjoying the many health benefits of fruits, veggies, legumes, and whole grains.
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Artificial sweeteners help you lose weight, right?iStock/Thinkstock
You’d think that since they have few or no calories, artificial sweeteners would help with weight loss. But some studies suggest that’s simply not the case. Guzzling diet soda is actually associated with an elevated risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, a 2013 review of a number of studies in the journals Trends in Endocrinology concluded. Researchers think artificial sweeteners trick your body into thinking it is consuming real sugar, which causes you to release insulin and store belly fat. Artificial sweeteners may also contribute to carbohydrate cravings.
Bottom line: Do I think it’s going to kill you if you consume artificial sweeteners occasionally? No. But giving them up or cutting back helps reset your palate so it’s back to normal, able to appreciate the natural tastes of whole foods rather than always demanding hyper-sweet, sugar-laden foods.
Is coconut oil a magic bullet for weight loss?moodboard/Thinkstock
Coconut oil has been receiving a fair amount of attention lately in nutrition circles. Proponents say coconut oil brings a variety of benefits to the table, such as improving your cholesterol profile and perhaps even chipping in on weight control.
Although much of the fat in coconut oil is saturated, it is different than the saturated fat found in animal foods and many other foods.
Bottom line: I’d still like to see more research but in the meantime, I think it’s fine to include coconut oil in your diet. It adds a nutty, rich, almost buttery taste to salads and sautéed vegetables. Choose unprocessed (virgin) coconut oil to get the fullest measure of essential fatty acids and antioxidants.
Are eggs healthy or not?iStock/Thinkstock
For years we’ve been told to avoid eggs because of their cholesterol. But it turns out this may not be necessary. For people without heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol, eating an egg a day appears to have no negative impact on heart health.
It’s true that egg yolks contain a fair amount of cholesterol. But they’re also good sources of protein, several B vitamins, choline, vitamin D, and vitamin E. Depending on how the chickens who laid them are fed, eggs can also be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and lutein, which helps with eye health.
I love eggs not only because of their nutrients—they’re also a fantastic veggie-delivery vehicle for someone like me who is not a natural vegetable lover. I’m not crazy about most raw veggies but I eat them up when they’re hidden in an omelet.
Bottom line: Limit yourself to one yolk a day, or three per week if you have heart disease or diabetes.
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Get more doctor-approved nutrition advice:
In The Doctor’s Diet, Travis Stork, MD, helps you cut through the noise around weight-loss myths and offers a specific plan (and delicious recipes) designed to help you slim down quickly and healthfully. Learn more and buy the book here.