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Saturated fat: Not as bad as you think

December 20, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Butter, burgers, ice cream, all loaded with a fat that causes health risks when consumed often. That fat is saturated fat and it's known to clog the arteries of your heart. Ready for a big, fat surprise? You might be able to keep some in your diet.

"When we look at saturated fats and when we look at fats in general, not all fats are created equal, so quality is going to dictate," said registered dietitian Ashley Koff.

We don't often get good news in the world of nutrition, but Koff has a big, fat surprise: It's OK to keep saturated fat in your diet.

But pay close attention to this little-known fact: "Every fat that's out there has some saturated fat so we're just talking about making sure that we eat food in its whole-food form," said Koff.

Yes, olive oil, hummus, nuts all contain some saturated fat even though the percentage of saturated fat is low.

"Hey, guess what? Your avocado actually has saturated fat in it," said Koff.

Burgers, cheese, ice cream -- we know these foods contain a lot of saturated fat, but actually there's certain types of saturated fat that have been shown to help prevent certain diseases.

"There are a number of studies out of Harvard that are showing that actually when we consume the saturated fat, the higher-fat dairy, the low-fat and the full fat, that are actually are reducing the risks of things like polycystic ovarian syndrome of infertility and also of teenage acne," said Koff.

The takeaway message is that really restricting fat in your diet may throw hormones off balance for some women. So while Koff embraces those mono- and polyunsaturated fats on the lower end of the saturated fat scale, she suggests a "qualitarian" style of eating.

"Be a 'qualitarian.' First of all, it is the best, because it means that you never really have to say, 'No, I can't.' What you do is you want to choose," said Koff.

Chef Akasha Richmond seconds that point of view.

"I would never eat a burger every day but once in a while I think it's OK. It all depends on what else you're doing and what else you're eating," said Akasha Richmond, owner and chef, Akasha Restaurant in Culver City.

If you're having the burger, don't have cheese, or butter on breakfast toast, and pass on pie after dinner.

On a typical 2,000-calorie-day diet, experts say no more than 30 percent of calories come from fat, with only a quarter of that from saturated fat. That's roughly about 15 grams, or about 140 fat calories.

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