Here’s news that will hopefully change how doctors define a heart-healthy diet. You may believe that cutting back on saturated fats is doing something good for your ticker. But after carefully monitoring the diets of 577 healthy adults, and evaluating them for multiple heart disease risk factors, researchers in Malaysia concluded something remarkable: restricting carbs had a significantly greater benefit to heart health than restricting fat consumption.
These results fly in the face of traditional advice. You might predict that people following low-fat diets would have better cholesterol profiles than those eating high-fat diets. That did not happen in this study. Those eating a high carb/low fat diet had worse outcomes.
You read that right: The researchers found that fats had little-to-no-impact on cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors including diabetes, insulin resistance and inflammation. You may find this even more astounding when I tell you that the type of fat consumed by 83% of the study participants was palm oil, which is 50% saturated fat. The rest consumed meals with more unsaturated vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, corn or olive oil. The type of fat didn’t matter.
As a chef, I know fats are an important part of cooking and dietary intake. Your body will burn any fat that you put in it, whether it is used fryer shortening or animal fats. Knowing this, I reach for one that I know is clean for my body, does not require any adjustments to my recipes and is imperceptible to the consumer. Add to that the fact that Malaysia produces palm oil with environmental stewardship, unlike most other countries, and it’s a win-win.
The newly published study also took other factors into account, including lifestyle, genetics, age and socioeconomics. These study participants lived in urban areas and held white collar jobs. And they were a healthy bunch. They didn’t smoke or drink. They didn’t have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease or cancer. None had ever had a stroke. Even their thyroids were working properly!
What does this mean for you and me? It’s never a good idea to completely ignore an entire food group. Proteins, carbs and fats all deserve a place in a heart-healthy diet. But if you should do one thing different because of this study, it’s this: Pay closer attention to the type of carbs you’re eating.
Start becoming a better label reader when you buy products that are prepackaged. For sugars, the study did find that high carb diets may lead to higher heart disease risk factors. Try to eliminate the carbs in your diet that have no nutritional value, such as added sugars.
These are sneaky and due to new labeling laws thankfully are highlighted. Better yet, start buying more raw ingredients and slowly build your culinary repertoire and produce great tasting meals that are healthier for you and your family while benefiting the planet as well.