The New York Times recently ran an opinion piece titled “Butter is Back.” It referenced a new medical review published in The Annals of Internal Medicine that examined multiple studies comparing cardiac risk in those who had diets made up of higher levels of polyunsaturated fats vs. those that consumed more saturated fats (i.e. butter, fried foods, red meat, vegetable oil, whole milk, and cheese.) Polyunsaturated fats are the fats that are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts, avocado fish oils and flax seeds. The review of multiple cholesterol studies could not clearly find a cardiovascular benefit in consuming a diet of more of one type of fat over the other. The New York Times ran with this story and made a leap in saying that “Butter is Back”.
Be careful – I would not rush into Burger King for a Whopper or KFC for a family bucket just yet! While it is always good to stay on top of different studies and continue to investigate the benefits and risks of the ingredients in our diets, we need to remember that there is not one single answer to becoming healthier by eating one type of food. Some people may read the headline and assume they have the green light to eat more butter and foods with saturated fats. But when you look more closely into the review, you’ll see that the investigators only looked at one aspect of cardiovascular disease. They did not review weight gain, obesity, cancer, or other parameters in determining general health when comparing these types of fats. They also failed to explain the study’s limitations: It was a review of many older studies and did not directly compare one group of people to another in a controlled prospective trial, which is the gold standard in medical studies.
There have been numerous studies demonstrating clear health benefits in diets consisting of foods that grow and are found in our natural environment vs. processed foods that contain larger amounts of sugar, bread, wheat, and flour. Annals of Internal Medicine also recently published a study that indicated the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet made up of primarily plant based foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil instead of butter, fish and limiting meat and poultry to just a few times a week. An occasional glass of wine is also part of the Mediterranean diet. The study showed improved blood pressure, cholesterol and other cardiac parameters when compared with a low fat diet. Other published studies indicate a decrease in obesity, heart disease and an increase in longevity with this type of diet.
It seems that the old days of excluding one type of food or a diet based on eating just one type of food are over! Remember the grapefruit diet? The cabbage soup diet? And don’t forget my least favorite – the low fat diet which became popular in the 1980s starting the carb craze leading in turn to massive weight gain and heart disease in our population. There is also the Atkins diet, which emphasizes large amounts of saturated fats over fruits and vegetables. These diets were huge and made millions of dollars for those who invented them, but most lost their luster because they are exclusive, almost impossible to follow over long periods of time, and may cause the opposite effect in terms of weight gain and poor health. These days we have the Paleo diet, the raw food diet, the gluten free diet and many more. These newer diets are better in that they emphasize increased amounts of fruits, vegetables, and natural grains, but they are still very limiting making them difficult to follow for a long period of time.
I do not make many guarantees but I will make one now: I guarantee that if you stick to a Mediterranean diet and eat more fruits and vegetables, while limiting processed foods such as breads, pasta, rice, and flour, you will optimize your health, lose weight and feel your best. I have made changes like these over the last few years, incorporating more natural foods into my diet, and I’ve lost weight and feel better too. If you are interested in trying out a diet like this, I plan on posting a two-week challenge with instructions to make it easy for you to plan for your new healthy lifestyle. The hardest part is making the plan and preparing in advance. Once you have that down, the diet portion is easy.
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