For many decades we have been told that diets that are low in saturated-fats, trans-fats and cholesterol are best for heart health. This way of eating is recommended by many organisations including the American Heart Association (ADA), Heart Foundation of South Africa (HSGSA) and by the South African Department of Health as seen in the South African Food based Dietary Guidelines (FBDG).
Characteristics of a low fat diet
- Fat intake of ≤30% of total energy
- Saturated fat intake of ≤10% of total energy
- Polyunsaturated intake of 6 – 10% of total energy (omega-6 providing 5-8% of energy and omega-3, 1-2% of energy)
- The intake of trans-fatty acids should be less than 1% of Total Energy.
- Remainder of the energy from total fat should be provided by MUFA.
What does the research say?
In the Women’s Health Initiative Dietary Modification Trial, 49 000 women were assigned to receive either the low-fat, high-carbohydrate or a normal diet. After 8 years of follow up results showed that those in the low-fat group lost weight, had a small but significant reduction in LDL cholesterol and diastolic blood pressure. Hooper et al (2001) reviewed 27 studies, on the intake of dietary fats on cardiovascular disease risk. They concluded that “reduction or modification of intake of dietary fat reduces the incidence of combined cardiovascular events by 16%”. The type and amount of fat that influenced CVD risk factors was assessed by Schwab et al (2014). They found that “partial replacement of saturated fat (SFA) with polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) or monounsaturated fat (MUFA) lowers fasting serum/plasma total and LDL cholesterol concentrations.” This was further supported in the male population with partial replacement of SFA with PUFA.
This way of thinking is in line with evidence presented by the HSFSA and SAFBDG. They also recommend the following guidelines dietary guidelines for healthy eating and promoting heart health.
- Enjoy a variety of foods.
- Chicken, fish, meat or eggs can be eaten every day. Choose lean or lower fat options.
- Try to have low-fat milk, yoghurt, or other dairy food every day.
- Eat dried beans, split peas, lentils or soya at least twice a week. They are a good source of protein, low in fat and high in fibre.
- Try to eat 5 vegetables and fruit every day. Remember to eat vegetables and fruit from the different colour groups (red, green, yellow and orange).
- Eat less salt and avoid foods high in salt. Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke, heart attack and cancer
- Use fat sparingly; choose vegetable oils rather than hard fats.
- Eat less sugar and avoid food or drinks high in sugar.
Foods that are promoted by the HSFSA are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium (salt), added sugar and higher in fibre… So look out for the Heart mark when choosing foods at your local supermarket. They also recommend the intake of the heart smart foods such as pilchards, walnuts, avocado, beans, oats, flaxseed, olive oil, soft tub margarine, strawberries and low fat yoghurt. These foods contain beneficial nutrients such as good fats, fibre and vitamins A, C, E all of which promote heart health. Apart from dietary factor the HSFSA also recommend that you include exercise daily and don’t smoke.
THE BOTTOM LINE: the low-fat diet makes sense and so we should all eat less fat overall while also learning about good fat vs. bad fat. There is emerging research that raises some concerns about foods that have been processed to reduce their fat content – this is something worth watching over time (the jury is still out) but a sensible low-fat diet based on natural unprocessed food choices, still seems sound.
This content was provided by FUTURELIFE®