Photo: Linette Lopez, Business Insider
Fancy a juicy steak?It is good for you, reports the Daily Mail, because the saturated fat in a cut of beef is actually healthy for the heart. The claim is based on a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that showed eating lean beef improved cholesterol levels and therefore reduced the risk of heart disease.
Eating beef as part of a low-fat diet had the effect of reducing risk factors for heart disease, namely levels of the bad cholesterol LDL, as with eating chicken breast. But how can red meat be as healthy as chicken? And eating any meat may seem counter intuitive, especially in a month that’s seen the horsemeat scandal and the publication of a paper in BMC Medicine saying that a diet packed with sausages and bacon increases your risk of dying from heart disease by 72%.
But the link between red meat and “good” saturated fatty acids adds just another layer of confusion about our intake of fats. Last month a paper in the BMJ stated that replacing saturated animal fats, which are traditionally thought of as bad, with omega-6 polyunsaturated vegetable fats, found in wholesome margarine, actually increased deaths among people who already had heart disease. So are there any animal fats that are good for us, and if so do we need to get them from steak?
Saturated fats are generally thought of as bad because they raise cholesterol levels. They get their name from the fact that the chain of carbon atoms that makes up their chemical structure is fully saturated with hydrogen atoms. They usually exist in solid form, in cream, cheese and butter. Sources of unsaturated fats include olive oil and oily fish and these are thought to be cholesterol-lowering. The British Dietetic Association recommends a daily intake of saturated fat of 30g for men and 20g for women.
Stearic acid is a saturated fat that is found in lean red meat and other healthier sources. It is known from previous studies to reduce cholesterol levels perhaps because it is broken down to oleic acid, which is an unsaturated fat. Oleic acid is so healthy it’s found in olive oil and thought to be a component of the healthy Mediterranean diet that lowers cholesterol and blood pressure.
This doesn’t mean you need to eat steak to get the benefits of healthy fats. Or that you need to eat more fat since most of us eat more than the recommended amount already. It means, as research so often does, that most things in moderation are fine and this includes eating saturated fats in lean red meat.
Find out more
• Mayo clinic: Dietary fats: know which types to choose
• NHS Choices: Fat: the facts
• The Guardian: Cancer risk higher among people who eat more processed meat, study finds
• The Guardian: 10 Mediterranean recipes to help you live longer
This article originally appeared on guardian.co.uk
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