Is all saturated fat bad for diabetic heart patients?

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This week’s topic of saturated fat is the fourth in our 4-part series on the primary dietary limitations for diabetic heart patients. For the earlier topics, sugar, salt and starchy/refined carbs, you can click the word links just provided, or click here for our blog page.

Saturated fat is a hot topic in the field of cardiovascular research. The traditional advice, which Wayne’s Cardiologist supports and we follow, is best represented by the American Heart Association’s approach of limiting saturated fat to no more than 13 grams per day, and avoiding trans fat altogether. It’s not easy to stay below this level, but the process of tracking it at least helps assure that we use it sparingly.

Because of the saturated fat concern, we generally avoid using ground beef, and we limit our use of dairy products high in saturated fat. When other limitations enter in (like the high sodium and saturated fat content of some cheeses) that persuades us to be even more diligent in avoiding them. That is why it’s so important to use an integrated approach, rather than a single-issue approach to dietary limitations.

Some studies question the traditional approach to saturated fat; you can view a few of these on our Resources page. Fat consumption is a concern for heart patients; it has no impact on blood sugar. In fact, an unconventional, but popular, low carb/high fat approach to managing Type 2 Diabetes is built on the concept of replacing glucose-raising carbs with high fat foods. If further research were to demonstrate that saturated fat does not increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, this approach could gain credibility for diabetic heart patients, but more information is needed. Wayne’s Cardiologist recommends the approach we are taking, meaning a measured approach and a daily limit of 13 grams of saturated fat.

Not all saturated fats are the same. In simple terms, the molecular structure of saturated fats ranges from short-chain to long-chain, and it appears that the longer structure is more harmful to cardiovascular health than the medium or shorter structures. The long-chain types are associated with meat-based fats, medium-chain types with dairy products. We are not scientists, and we would suggest viewing some of the articles at our Resources page if you are interested in the details.

What are the best alternatives to saturated fat? Authorities seem to agree that monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats (affectionately known as MUFAs and PUFAs) are healthier than saturated fats (links to the American Heart Association and Cleveland Clinic websites on our Resources page are among many that reflect this view). Examples include olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil and similar liquid fats from vegetable and nut sources. So-called “vegetable oil” is not among these, despite its benign-sounding name. Vegetable oil and several similar products are highly processed and unstable, meaning they are vulnerable to oxidation, which can cause inflammation – a risk factor for heart disease. Oils that are not highly processed, but simply pressed (such as oil from olives, avocado and walnuts) are preferred.

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