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With the recent news that the FDA has demanded that trans fats –fats found in margarine, and in many processed foods as partially hydrogenated oil -- be removed from the US market within 3 years, I was afraid that my mother had been correct in telling me to limit my fat intake while I was growing up. As a teenager growing up in the 1970s, she was coming of age when the first set of dietary guidelines called for Americans to limit how much fat they ate.  This advice stuck with her through adulthood when she eventually became a mother and did her best to raise healthy kids.

Fortunately, I grew up in the time of the wonderful World Wide Web.  When news of the trans fat ban broke, I headed straight to Google and did some research of my own. As it turns out, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recently released their report softening the conclusion that fat is the “bad guy” in our continuing obesity epidemic. In fact, the dietary committee, which consists of a panel of 14 expert nutrition scientists and physicians, did not suggest a limit to the amount of fats Americans should consume (although they did recommend keeping saturated fat -- the kind found in butter, whole dairy products, and beef--  to around 10% of total calories.)

While reducing these saturated fats has been linked to a reduction of heart disease risk, the committee found that total fat intake, especially of “good” polyunsaturated fats like those in olive oil, salmon, and walnuts, should be exempted from a similar restriction. Additionally, the report also greatly downplayed the role of cholesterol in our diets, going so far as to say “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

So how does this news affect the average person?  Most of us won’t read the 571-page Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report (I gave it my best shot.)  Thankfully, there are departments that do it for us. Later this year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) will use this report to update the government’s official “Dietary Guidelines”, which are updated every 5 years. These Guidelines include useful graphics and shorthand descriptions of recommendations, such as the MyPlate graphic.  

In the meantime, keep enjoying your nuts and avocados – which are great sources of “good” polyunsaturated fats -- guilt-free.  I’ll keep working on convincing my mom that all things that came out of the 1970s should be left where they belong – in the past.

 


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