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Fat or Fiction?

Is fat really the enemy? Read on to find out.

Q. True or false: A low-fat diet is best for reducing your risk of heart disease.

A. False: New research found that a low-carbohydrate diet was actually better than a low-fat diet at reducing the risk of heart disease.

A study from Tulane University School of Public Health in New Orleans found that research participants had bigger improvements in their cholesterol and triglyceride levels on a low-carbohydrate diet than a low-fat diet. The low-carb group also lost more weight (about 8 lbs. more) than the low-fat group over the course of one year.

“Carbohydrate quality and heart health are certainly connected,” says Nicolette Jones, clinical dietitian at The University of Kansas Health System. “Excessive carbohydrate intake (high blood sugar spikes) feeds a stress hormone called cortisol. With this stress comes inflammation and that can pose the risk for heart disease.”

Q. True or false: All low-carb diets are heart healthy.

A. False. Not all low-carb diets are created equal. Some low-carb diets geared toward weight loss do not restrict fat intake, including artery-clogging saturated fat. These diets may result in weight loss, but they typically do nothing positive for your heart health.

“Carbohydrates should be limited as well as fat, but whole grains, fruits and vegetables should never be eliminated from the diet,” Jones says. “I encourage my patients to eliminate simple carbohydrates like baked goods, candy and other junk foods, and replace them with fiber rich whole grains, fruits and vegetables. You may find that you can reduce inflammation, feel more satisfied on less and even see a few pounds shed.”

Q. True or false: A diet high in fat is healthier for your heart than a high-carbohydrate diet.

A. False. Doctors still discourage eating too many fatty foods. However, certain types of fats should be included as part of a balanced diet and are considered heart healthy. Trans fats and saturated fats should be avoided when possible because they raise cholesterol levels, a risk factor for heart disease. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in salmon and avocado, can actually lower cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease.

“Both carbohydrates and fat should be monitored on quality as well as quantity,” Jones says. “If you’re cutting out fat, including beneficial fats like olive oil and nuts, you’re missing out on crucial ways to reduce your cholesterol and help you feel satisfied. Carbohydrates should be limited as well, but whole grains, fruits and vegetables should never be eliminated from the diet.”