Eschewing the Fat: While Fat is Part of a Healthy Diet, Don’t Over Do It
By Teresa Taillefer
In Diabetes Dialogue, Fall 1999
Which is better for you - butter or margarine? This question is frequently asked by people who visit a registered dietitian’s office. Often people describe hearing, viewing or reading a news report that one is a healthier option that the other. It almost seems that there’s a different recommendation weekly!
The fact is that nutrition is a young science and because of this, research is discussed frequently on television and in the newspapers. Individual research studies do not necessarily draw clear conclusions. Scientists are required to piece together many different studies to draw a true picture and make recommendations. Researchers look at the quality of the study and the strength of the conclusions made. When a new study is published, healthy food choice recommendations may not change. When a number of studies make the same conclusions, the scientists debate the current recommendations and make changes. To date, we do know that a diet low in total, saturated and trans fats and cholesterol, but high in fibre, reduces the risk of heart attacks, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
When blood cholesterol is high, blood vessels can become plugged up. To lower blood cholesterol, you need to eat less fat (whether it’s butter, margarine, oil or lard). Saturated fats and trans fats are particularly harmful. Eating too much dietary cholesterol may also raise blood cholesterol levels. Dietary cholesterol comes from animal foods such as meat, poultry, seafood, egg yolks and milk fat.
There is no need to stop eating any one food. Instead, look at your total diet. Canadian food consumption studies show that we consume most of the fat in our diet as added fats, such as butter, margarine and oil. Identify which high-fat foods you choose on a regular basis and try to cut down. See the chart for some tips to eat less fat.
Low-fat Eating Tips
- Enjoy low-fat milk products
- Enjoy smaller portions and leaner cuts of meat.
- Use butter, margarine, oils and salad dressings sparingly.
- Instead of mayonnaise on your sandwiches, try substitutions that are lower in fat, such as mustard.
- Cook in low-fat ways - steam, broil, bake, barbecue, roast or poach foods instead of frying.
- When you fry, use products such as vegetable oil instead of lard.
Once you have lowered the total amount of fat in your diet, turn to improving the amount of good blood cholesterol (HDL) compared to the amount of bad blood cholesterol (LDL). Research shows that, of the fats you do eat, it’s best to consume less saturated fats and trans fats. Butter is about half saturated fats, while some margarines are high in trans fats.
Margarines are made in different ways using different ingredients. Each margarine has to be individually assessed to see if it is low in saturated and trans fats. Reading the food label is the key to assessing a margarine. Look for the term ‘hydrogenated’ on the margarine label. Hydrogenation is a process used in making margarine harder (more saturated). This process can lead to the formation of trans fats, which are the latest fats to hit the media.
Food labels describe the amount of fat types in grams. Add up the grams of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in one brand of margarine and compare it to other brands. The larger the amount of these ‘good’ fats per serving, the better. Just keep in mind that, just because a margarine is high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, this doesn’t mean it is low in total fat. It still contains fat, but it’s just more of a less harmful type. People with diabetes need to watch their total fat intake, not just their intake of ‘bad’ fats.
To sum up, eat less fat in general. When you do eat fat, pick products that are higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Choose fewer products that are high in saturated and trans fats.
Restricting fat is not the only way to lower blood cholesterol. Eating more fibre can also help. Aim to eat 25 to 30 grams of fibre daily. Grain products, vegetables, fruits and some meat alternatives such as peas, lentils or beans are the best sources of dietary fibre. See the second chart on this page for some tips to help add fibre to your diet. Increase your intake of fibre slowly to minimize gastric discomfort, and be sure to drink more water as you eat more fibre.
High-fibre Eating Tips
- Start your day with a low-fat breakfast cereal topped with fresh fruit such as apples or strawberries.
- Make your sandwiches on whole grain breads or rolls.
- Add peas, beans, barley and lentils to your favourite soups, stews and casseroles.
- Munch on veggies with a bean dip instead of sour cream dip.
- Add dried fruit such as raisins, apricots or cranberries to homemade muffins or cookies.
Reading food labels and making healthy choices can be difficult. Contact your local diabetes education centre or a Registered Dietitian to obtain written materials or to access a grocery store tour or label-reading class.
Teresa Taillefer BASc, RD, CDE practises with Diabetes Information and Services in Timmins, Ontario