Should we be able to eat as many “good fats” — like in avocados, nuts, and olive oil — as we want?(Photo: Corbis)
Dietary limits on fat intake have been around for years, but now two scientists are urging the federal government to drop restrictions on total fat consumption entirely.
In a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, co-authors Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and David Ludwig, MD, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center at Boston Children’s Hospital, argue that all fats aren’t created equal.
The co-authors explain that growing evidence shows that eating foods that contain healthy fats — like nuts, olive oil, and fish — can actually protect us against certain diseases, such as heart disease, while many low-fat and fat-free foods — like fat-free salad dressing and baked potato chips — may even be worse for us nutritionally than full-fat options.
They also point out that for decades, carbohydrates were considered the foundation of a healthy diet, but research has shown that refined carbohydrates are linked to obesity. (A 2010 study of nearly 54,000 people published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that refined carbohydrates may be even worse for our health than saturated fat.)
It’s worth noting that, for the first time since 1980, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (a group of independent scientists who review scientific literature on nutrition and give recommendations to the U.S. government) did not propose restricting how much fat we should eat each day. Current guidelines suggest just 35 percent of our daily calories should come from fat.
Recommendations from the committee will go on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will write the final Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
The timing is interesting, given that the U.S. is currently in the midst of an obesity epidemic. New research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that there are now more obese than overweight adults in the U.S., and the majority of U.S. adults are now classified as overweight or obese.
Is lifting the dietary limit on fat intake at this time really a good idea? Some experts are wary.
“Removing the guidelines, especially without providing any education to give context to the role of fat in the diet, isn’t necessarily going to fix anything,” New York City registered dietitian Jessica Cording tells Yahoo Health.
Cording says she’s concerned that some people would interpret the removal of the dietary limit on fat intake as, “Don’t worry about fat,” and take it too far.
While Cording acknowledges that most people tend to ignore dietary guidelines when it comes to fat intake, she says some sort of overall guidance is important — especially for those who need to be a on restricted-fat diet for health reasons.
“There should still be information available for people who need it to help them make choices that will keep them healthy, even if it’s a ballpark idea of how many grams of fat a person should consume,” she says.
Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of the New York Nutrition Group, agrees.
“Consumers should be continuously educated on what a balanced, healthy diet entails,” she tells Yahoo Health. “If there are no guidelines on how much fat they should be eating, there is a chance that they will eat more fat and, as a result, consume less high-fiber, whole-grain carbohydrates and muscle-preserving lean proteins.”
Moskovitz says she’s also concerned that taking away guidelines on dietary fat could leave people “more confused and overwhelmed than ever” and cause even more nutrition problems for the American public.
The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is expected to be published later this year. Will it include a dietary limit on fat intake? We’ll see…
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