Saturated fat — the “bad” dietary fat — increases your risk of developing both heart disease and diabetes. That’s why people who reduce saturated fat intake lower their risk of experiencing a catastrophic cardiac event by up to 21%.
Most common sources of saturated fat are also some of the most common food staples. This includes red meat, chicken skin, whole-fat dairy products, butter, lard, coconut and palm oil, and most sweets and desserts.
In fact, saturated fats account for just over 10% of the average Canadian adult’s daily calorie intake. This is despite various national and international health organizations recommending an average saturated fat intake of:
Healthy living experts and medical professionals now all consider reducing/limiting saturated fat intake as a part of a healthy diet. That said, aiming to cut fat out of your diet altogether is both unrealistic and unhealthy; dietary fats are necessary for normal, healthy body functions. That is why it is important to understand the difference between “good” vs. “bad” dietary fat, and how to substitute the former for the latter.
Establishing any new healthy living habit requires understanding your starting context. That is, to succeed, you need to know what and how much to adjust.
Nutritionists recommend starting dietary change by measuring the nutritional content of what you already eat; figuring out your current saturated fat intake is the first step to making healthful substitutions. This process also reveals your unique nutritional needs/deficiencies, which should inform your choices about substituting with food and/or natural supplements.
Saturated fatty acids preserve food and add flavor. That’s why processed snack foods — like microwave popcorn, no-stir peanut butter, chips, crackers, and cookies — are often high in saturated fat. Snacking on plant-based foods instead replaces saturated fats with healthy monounsaturated fats.
When it comes to cutting back on the amount of red meat we consume, many people worry about nutrient deficiency. Specifically, iodine, zinc, and vitamin B12 (as well as protein on a macro-scale) can be difficult to get without it. That said, fish, poultry, nuts, beans, and whole-grain foods are effective substitutes. Likewise, natural supplements — especially those derived from healing plants — can provide additional nutritional support.
You can easily adjust recipes for home-cooked meals to limit and replace saturated fats. Changes include:
Because saturated fatty acids add flavor, healthier substitutes often seem less enjoyable. Learning to cook with natural herbs and healing plants often helps people stay on track with a commitment to lowering saturated fat intake; flavors derived from these sources can be just as satisfying while offering better nutritional support.
Saturated fat is a good medium for frying food, leavening baked goods, and adding moisture to recipes in danger of drying out. That is why traditional cooking preparations use butter, ghee, and lard. Substituting vegetable or olive oil, or even fat-free Greek yogurt, applesauce, or natural fruit compotes offers the same benefits with healthier fat content.
Health Canada’s nutritional guidelines no longer recommended a certain number of daily servings of dairy. That’s because dairy products (milk and cheese) and dairy-based desserts are among the largest sources of saturated fats in most Canadians’ diets.
Even though dairy can be an important source of calcium and other nutrients that support bone and joint health, nutritionists note that these nutrients are easily available elsewhere — including plant-based products and high-quality natural supplements.
If you cannot cut out dairy altogether, nutritionists encourage substituting low-fat products. As with all other substitutions, your low-fat and full-fat choices should keep daily intake below the recommended threshold for healthy living.
For more information about making healthful dietary choices, visit Health Canada’s Food Guide online.
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