Are you confused about fat? If so, you're not alone. After being demonized for decades, saturated fat is coming off the nutrient supervillain list. And that's good news for you!
As our nation's long war on fat winds down, experts are taking a second look at some of the most forbidden foods, and concluding that some of them did not deserve those bad reputations.
Butter is a good example. Yes, it's a saturated fat. But as it turns out, saturated fat is not the enemy now, and never has been.
Saturated fat's bad reputation originated in the 1950s, when heart disease was on the rise. A research scientist named Ancel Keys decided that animal fats, cholesterol, and heart disease were connected.
Health experts embraced Keys' overly simplistic explanation of avoiding heart disease by eating less saturated fat. But studies supporting his theory were few and far between.
That didn't stop health experts from jumping on the "fat is bad" bandwagon. Soon all fats were declared dangerous to your health.
By the mid-80s, the National Institutes of Health was urging Americans to swap bacon and egg breakfasts for low-fat milk, cereal, orange juice, and dry toast to avoid killer fats.
Just one small problem: In the breakfast example above, the "healthy," low-fat breakfast was mostly refined carbohydrates, the kind in processed, prepared foods that I'm always warning about.
Before long, grocery store shelves were lined with snacks and prepared foods low in fat, but loaded with sugar or salt to make them tasty.
But the starchy carbs in these foods packed on pounds and led to insulin resistance and diabetes. No surprise that the obesity epidemic got its start in the 80s, just as these wrong-headed approaches were taking over.
Now the backlash has begun. And with good reason. We know that replacing meat, butter, and cheese with a bagel did not make anyone healthier. In fact, the bagel's starchy carbs probably caused millions of people to go from a size Large to XL or more.
So, yes, butter - a saturated fat - is now considered healthy - when consumed in moderation. Let's look at some of the effects of eating butter.
First, you absolutely must have fat in your diet. Remember, your brain is mostly fat. If you want your brain to be in top working order, you need healthy fats in your diet.
Second, butter is only 66 percent saturated fat. The other thirty-four percent of butter's fat is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and both of those have definite health benefits, including helping lower cholesterol.
Speaking of which, butter is not loaded with cholesterol. A tablespoon of butter contains 33 mg, a pittance considering that the recommended daily limit of cholesterol is 300 mg.
Butter also provides lecithin, a relative of the fat family with the unique ability to "break down" cholesterol.
Remember, too, that butter is filled with health-promoting nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E, K2, and minerals such as selenium, chromium, manganese, zinc, copper, and iodine.
Plus, you get a dollop of saturated fat, so your body can absorb those nutrients.
Here's another benefit -- butter tastes good! A little butter can make healthy foods that may not be your favorites much more tasty.
You won't find any of these good things in fake butters or margarine. These products are just unhealthy vegetable oils processed with high heat that makes the oil go rancid.
Manufacturers then harden the oil with the heavy metal nickel, a known toxin, before coloring and deodorizing it to remove the rancid smell.
In the process, the oil becomes a trans fat, which raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol. Avoid trans fats, which are listed on nutrition labels, whenever you can.
Eliminate processed foods from your diet that are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, these are trans fats that are frequently used in crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and baked goods.
How about butter-flavored sprays? A big thumbs down for those imposters, too. They contain diacetyl, an ingredient that speeds up the formation of protein clumps linked to Alzheimer's.
What about the supposed link between saturated fats, like butter, and heart disease? Researchers are now concluding it was flimsy at best. But they've also discovered which fat is the healthiest of all.
Studies have repeatedly shown that one of the best ways to protect your heart and reduce heart disease is by taking omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs), something I prescribe to nearly all my patients.
So stock up on foods that are rich in good fats - eggs, avocadoes, coconut, nuts, and healthy oils, like grapeseed and extra virgin olive oil.
Thirty percent of your daily calories should come from these good fats. So enjoy them in moderation. Your heart, brain, and taste buds will thank you for it!