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Fats shouldn't always be thought of as a four-letter word. There is such a thing as healthy fats, and they’re essential for your body to function. Dietitian Anna Taylor, RD explains.

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How To Incorporate Healthy Fats Into Your Diet with Anna Taylor, RD

Podcast Transcript

Speaker 1: There's so much health advice out there, lots of different voices and opinions, but who can you trust? Trust the experts, the world's brightest medical minds, our very own Cleveland Clinic experts. We ask them tough, intimate health questions. So you get the answers you need. This is the Health Essentials Podcast brought to you by Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children's. This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician.

John Horton: Welcome, and thank you for joining us for this episode of the Health Essentials Podcast. My name is John Horton, and I'm your host today. We're talking to registered dietician Anna Taylor about how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet. And yes, you did hear that, right. The topic is on healthy fats. They do exist in the food world and they're essential for your body to function. The key, though, is knowing where to find fats that fall in the healthy category. Luckily, we've got an expert dietary guide to lead the way — Anna, thanks so much for joining us today.

Anna Taylor: Thanks for having me, John.

John Horton: Great, great. Let's start by just having you tell us a little bit about your work here at Cleveland Clinic — what's your main focus area and who are the patients that you typically work with?

Anna Taylor: So, I've been an outpatient dietician at the Cleveland Clinic for about 10 years now. So, that means that I work with everyday people about everyday health issues, people who are really motivated to change their health through changing their diet. Most of the people I talk to are motivated to work on improving their cholesterol levels and heart health, their blood pressure, their blood sugar control or losing weight — or oftentimes, a combination of these. Now, I do have a specialty certification in diabetes care and education, but I see people for just about anything when it comes to nutrition. I'm also the lead dietician for the outpatient group, which basically means I support the manager, as well as my fellow clinicians, just to make sure we're doing our best work every day.

John Horton: Wow, well that sounds like it must keep you really, really busy Anna. So, let's get today's conversation going with a pretty basic question. And basically, why do people hear the word “fat” and immediately consider it a four letter word?

Anna Taylor: I think that just old rumors, they just never die. And so, several decades ago, there was a lot of information coming out about fats being bad for heart health, and that we have to avoid fats in order to improve our heart health and improve our cholesterol levels. It was decades ago and since then, as nutrition is a science, we've learned so much more about heart health, as well as how nutrition affects our heart and our cholesterol levels. And we found out that it's not so black and white, nutrition rarely is. It's not an entire group of a nutrient that's necessarily good or bad. So, it's a lot more complex than that.

John Horton: All right. Well, it does seem like a lot of food talk is often focused on the negative when it comes to fats, but the reality is that we need fats in our diet, right?

Anna Taylor: Yeah, we do. Fat's an essential nutrient. What that means is we have to get it from our diet in order to maintain good health. So, fat is used for a lot of different things in our body. It's required in order to be able to absorb certain nutrients like vitamins, A, D, E and K. It helps with temperature regulation. It helps with regulating and production of hormones in our body. And it's a really concentrated fuel source. In addition, certain fats are actually going to support improved heart health and lower bad cholesterol levels and fight inflammation.

John Horton: See, I don't think most people would think that, you think fats and you think, "Ooh, I got to stay away." So, it does sound like you get a lot of benefits from them, but maybe we should have started here, but let's cover it now. I mean, what exactly are dietary fats?

Anna Taylor: So basically, there's three main good calorie sources for humans. We have carbohydrates, we have proteins and we have fats and these are all essential nutrients that we need to have in our diets in order to support our overall health. So, of the three, when we talk about fats, fats are broken down into four different kinds of fat. Two of them are healthy fat, and two of them are unhealthy fat or bad fats.

John Horton: So you've got a 50/50 shot of getting the right one.

Anna Taylor: Exactly.

John Horton: All right. Are there guidelines regarding the amount of fat that you should eat in day?

Anna Taylor: Sort of. For the bad fat, there's definitely recommendations. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat, which is one of the two bad fats, to no more than five to 6% of your total calorie intake. What that really translates to is somewhere between 7 grams and 13 grams of saturated fat for a whole day. That's based on a 1,200- to 2,000-calorie diet. Now, at first glance at things, OK, a budget, I can handle a budget, but saturated fat is found all throughout the diet. For example, one tablespoon of butter has about 7 grams of saturated fat in it.

John Horton: Oh, that would be a whole day.

Anna Taylor: Yeah. It could be a half to 100% of your daily intake for saturated fat. One ounce of cheese, which is about one deli slice of cheese, has about 6 grams of saturated fat in it. Again, these two things together, we got 13 grams of saturated fat right there, and we're well through the budget for a 2,000-calorie day. Then, we also have very firm recommendations for trans fat. For trans fat, the recommendation is 0 grams for a whole day. And that used to be hard because trans fats were found in a lot of processed foods, but the FDA has now banned trans fats from the American diet. And so in the U.S., it's actually quite difficult to find added trans fats in foods.

John Horton: All right, all right. I'm a positive guy, so let's start on the good side of the ledger. So if I'm understanding right, there are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and those are the good ones that are healthier. How are those beneficial to you?

Anna Taylor: Yeah. So, there's two different kinds of healthy fats, just like you said, the mono and polyunsaturated fats, and they're really great for you. So, they do different things. They're both supportive of health and they're both ... should be included in the diet. There's not very specific recommendations about just how much to include in the diet, but in general, we usually hope that fat is around 30% of your total calories. So, most of your fat should be coming from these healthy fats. Monounsaturated fats help support good cholesterol levels and good HDL levels. And many of them are anti-inflammatory fats. So, anti-inflammatory means that these particular fats help fight chronic inflammation in your body, which is a big deal, since we now know that inflammation seems to be at the root cause of a lot of chronic conditions like diabetes and cancers, and absolutely with heart health.

Then, meanwhile, the polyunsaturated fats, there's two different kinds of polyunsaturated fats. We got the omega-6s and then the omega-3s. I think most people have heard a little bit about omega-3s. Omega-3s are fantastic fats. They're incredibly anti-inflammatory. And so, they support healthy cholesterol levels, but also triglyceride levels, and they fight inflammation in the body.

John Horton: All right, well Anna, one — I want to take you to the grocery store with me, but since I'm guessing you're too busy to do that, when I go, what items on the shelf should I be grabbing in order to get these good unsaturated fats? Maybe we can start with the monounsaturated.

Anna Taylor: Sure. So the monounsaturated fats are found in a variety of nuts, especially things like almonds, pistachios, and then peanuts and peanut butter, avocados, olives. And then of course, extra virgin olive oil.

John Horton: Oh, you got to have your EVOO, so that's key to everything.

Anna Taylor: Absolutely.

John Horton: What about the polyunsaturated?

Anna Taylor: The polyunsaturated fats, again, there's two different kinds of polyunsaturated fats. The omega-6s, which Americans, honestly, we get a little too much of those. Those are found in safflower oil and corn oil and soy oil and sunflower oil. So, they're found in all sorts of foods, but the omega-3s, which Americans do not get enough of, those are found primarily in an animal source, which is fatty fish. Overall, usually good fats come from plant sources, but this is the exception. So, the omega-3s are mostly found in fatty fish, which would be like wild caught salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and then a couple plant sources, ground or milled flax seeded, chia seeds and walnuts are great sources.

John Horton: Wow. So, I mean, it would be possible to just mix these healthy fats into your diet just all day with every meal. What would be some ideas for breakfast, if you were going to throw out some things that, hey, eat this and you'll get a good dose of these healthy fats.

Anna Taylor: Of course, my generation loves some good avocado wholegrain toast, so I am a big fan and I might do a little scrambled egg white on top of there, with tomato, sounds great to me. But if you want something a little bit more traditional, you can just do wholegrain toast with peanut butter, which is another great monounsaturated fat. Maybe at lunch, you do something like some salmon or tuna on that bed of field greens, and you include lots of fruits and vegetables in that meal as well. And then maybe a snack, you grab a handful of walnuts. At dinner, you can make sure you drizzle some virgin olive oil on your vegetables as you're roasting them. Maybe for a dessert, you put some chia seeds or some brown flax in your yogurt.

John Horton: Wow. It sounds like it'll keep you full for the day. You're definitely not going to be short of things to eat.

Anna Taylor: That's one of the exciting things about these fats. So, these fats are really concentrated sources of calories. A little bit goes a long way and helps you stay full for a long period of time.

John Horton: Well, let me ask you, so you just brought ... saying, “a little bit.” Are there limits to what you should put on with eating these good fat or, I mean, can you just ... they're so good just, I mean, dig in and have as much as you want?

Anna Taylor: It does depend on your goals. So, if, for example, you're interested in improving your heart health and also losing weight. What we really recommend is replacing the bad or unhealthy fats with healthy fats, but you'd still need to limit your portions for those healthy fats because they are a concentrated source of calories. One gram of fat has about 9 calories. One gram of protein or carbs only has about 4 calories. So, fats are very concentrated calorie sources. So, for that reason, you do need to limit your portions. However, if you are looking to improve your heart health and you're trying to gain weight or maintain weight, or maybe you're also trying to take care of your kids who are trying to grow currently in need a surplus or excess calorie source, then this is a great way to bump up calories for someone.

John Horton: OK. All right, great. Now let's go to the other side of the ledger here and let's talk about the saturated fats. I mean, the bad fats, what do those do to your body?

Anna Taylor: So, just like trans fats, saturated fats can also increase your bad LDL cholesterol levels, and just like trans fats, your saturated fats can also really cause a lot of inflammation in your body. The other thing about saturated fats though, saturated fats will also increase your total cholesterol levels and increase your total triglyceride levels. So, saturated fats are definitely a problem and we eat way too many of them. Our body makes all of the cholesterol it needs. We don't need to make more cholesterol in the body from eating certain foods.

John Horton: Anna, that's some great information, but if you could break down for us a little bit, the good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and just what each of them are, because sometimes I think people don't have a firm grasp of how that all fits together.

Anna Taylor: Yeah. I think when our providers ask us to get lab work done and we see this lipid panel, there's all these different numbers, it can be difficult to really know what we're looking at. So, there's a couple different specific numbers that are found in what's called a lipid panel, which is your cholesterol draw. And so, one of the first numbers that you're going to see is a total cholesterol number. This is not a direct math equation, but it is a combination of different kinds of cholesterol found in the body. Then, we also have an LDL cholesterol level. So, that LDL cholesterol is your bad cholesterol. That's the one that we really want to keep as low as possible in order to keep our hearts healthy and our body safe. Then, we have our HDL cholesterol. HDL cholesterol is good cholesterol. So sometimes people call it LDL is lousy cholesterol, HDL is happy cholesterol. So, we have our lousy and our happy cholesterol. And we want our HGL cholesterol to be high. High is good, it helps protect our hearts. And then we have something called triglycerides. Triglycerides aren't exactly a kind of cholesterol. They're a type of fat found in our body. So, triglycerides, we also want to be low in order to keep our bodies and our hearts healthy.

John Horton: OK. So, with the saturated fats, it sounds like you're getting a lot of that lousy cholesterol, you're getting a lot of that. I think this list is going to really upset a lot of people, but when you look through your refrigerator and your pantry, where are you going to find this bad cholesterol? I'm guessing it's a lot of favorite items. So, let us know.

Anna Taylor: Even I don't like this list, John. So overall, usually, rule of thumb is that good fats are mostly found in plant foods and bad fats are mostly found in animal foods. Not everything lines up perfectly. Like I said earlier, for example, fatty fish is from an animal and it's a healthy fat, but most saturated fats come from high fat animal foods. So, mostly it's from high fat meats and high fat dairy foods. Examples of high fat meats would be things like salami, baloney, sausage, kielbasa, bacon, fried meats, fast food, high fat burger, high fat pork cuts like ribs, for example.

John Horton: You've just hit most of my menu for this week.

Anna Taylor: They're tasty foods. Fat tastes good. It feels good in our mouth and we love the taste of it. It's also very filling, so people really like to have high fat foods. But then we also have the high fat dairy foods. Those are also really high in saturated fat. I mentioned butter earlier, but it's not just butter that's a problem, that's high in bad saturated fats. It's also anything made with whole milk. So, whether it's whole milk, or whole yogurt, whole fat yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, any kinds of those creamy dressings, like ranch-style dressings, those are typically going to be quite high in saturated fat as well. I don't even want to say it, but even ice cream, anything made with high fat ingredients like baked goods, cakes, cookies, pies, we know they taste good, but that's one of the reasons why it's important to really limit how much of these foods that we eat on a regular basis because they're high in saturated fat.

John Horton: Well, and that's what I'm going to lead me into my next question, because we don't want people to be depressed hearing this — so, I assume it's not that you have to never eat these foods that have saturated fats, but it's more of, you need to limit how much you're having?

Anna Taylor: Yeah. There's really two specific recommendations that are coming in here. The first one is to replace some of the bad fats in your diet, the saturated fats, with the good healthy fats, the monounsaturated fats and the omega-3 polyunsaturated fats especially. So, replacing bad fats with good fats. And then the second thing is, yeah, you need to ... even if you have lots of good healthy fats, you cannot balance out a diet that's high on saturated fat. So, you still want to limit saturated fats as well.

John Horton: So, if you want to have your burger maybe one day a week — because we need our burgers — so, would that be OK or you just have a day where you go, "OK, I'm going to treat myself and I'll have this."?

Anna Taylor: Yeah. I think that there's two ways to really think about this. The first one is you want to make sure that you do get to enjoy food and you don't have an all or nothing approach where you think of it as, "Oh I'm being good today," or, "I'm being bad at this meal," or this day. First of all, your body doesn't know you're on vacation, so it won't be protecting you from the damage that particular meal or day would cause. So, there needs to be balance in the diet and I agree no one needs to be a perfect eater.

There other thing to keep in mind here is that there's always a better choice. So for example, if you love to have a burger, once or twice a week for red meat consumption is often considered acceptable, but what kind of meat are you using for that burger? If you really want to have a beef hamburger, a traditional, made from beef hamburger, then you can look at a leaner cut of ground beef, for example, 95% lean ground beef instead of the typical 80/20 that you usually will find on the shelf.

John Horton: You had talked, too, about substituting. So, let's roll through some things you could do. So, if you're used to having a burger a few days a week, what could you sub in for that just to get the same sort of feel, but not the bad cholesterol and the fats that you're going to get out of it?

Anna Taylor: I mean, one of my favorite things to do is instead of choosing red meat like beef or pork for the certain kinds of meats, I might end up choosing chicken breast or turkey breast. So, I might make a burger out of ground turkey breast. I'll tell you, anyone who's made a burger from ground turkey breast, and they're used to hamburgers, the first thing they're going to say is, "Oh, but it's dry." It's not that it's dry, it's that it doesn't have as much fat in it, but there's lots of good ways to make something juicy and taste good without adding saturated fat to it. So, I might make a turkey burger made from ground turkey breasts, and then instead of adding cheese to it, mayonnaise to it, and making more of those added fats, I might do something like avocado slices and then a tomato slice, to add some moisture to it, lettuce, maybe some pickles, making a different kind of moisture content, and then making sure that I've seasoned the meat. That's a great way to make sure that there's lots of flavor still in that burger and that I get to enjoy it.

John Horton: All right. Now, what about dessert? Now, you had mentioned ice cream. So, if you want to get move away from that high fat, just bad fat ice cream, what can you sub in instead?

Anna Taylor: Well, everyone's going to hate me for this one, but it's absolutely true that sometimes we're just looking for something sweet and there is luckily an entire food group of food that is naturally sweet, tastes great and is affordable, and it's fruit. So, of course, I don't actually think that, OK, instead of having a bowl of ice cream with a brownie in it, go ahead and just eat an apple — but instead, what can we do with fruit to help balance out our diet, so that we are able to eat an eating pattern that supports our overall health? If you're having a cookout, has anyone ever tried, instead of doing a big old scoop of ice cream or a couple scoops of ice cream afterwards, you grill up some peaches and then you have that with a scoop of low fat ice cream. And now we have some balance there. Or if it's the fall time, you really wanted to do like an apple dumpling sort of thing. Has anyone ever try doing baked apples with cinnamon and clove, ginger? And again, maybe you put some raisins in there. Maybe you do a small scoop of a low fat ice cream or something with it, but there's a way to balance things and find ways to enjoy food and really taste things and enjoy sweets even, without necessarily eating so much saturated fat.

John Horton: Well, it sounds like this is actually an opportunity where you can really expand your diet and experiment a little bit with what you're making and eating and really diversify it a little bit.

Anna Taylor: Absolutely. I think that, so often, what we fall into, just like you were saying at the beginning, John, "Oh, fats are bad." I think it's so easy, especially in the United States, we like to focus on what not to eat, what not to eat, what not to eat — but what about what to eat? If we're filling up on foods, healthy foods from actual food groups, then we're not going to always be craving these processed foods. Our taste buds are sensitive to change. When we're born, we don't even have a taste for salty things, for example, we develop it over time and just in the same way, if we change the way that we're eating and we fill up the diet with good healthy foods, then you're not going to be missing out on some of those, not so great, unhealthy foods or more processed foods. And there's always a place for small amount of those foods, as long as the foundation of the diet is solid.

John Horton: It sounds like it's just a matter of rethinking how you're eating.

Anna Taylor: Absolutely. And balance, I think, is key. It's just the problem is when we talk about variety and balance, they're such big concepts that without a little bit more direction, it can be hard to try to follow.

John Horton: Well, funny you should bring up direction because the next thing we're going to talk about are diets and eating plans. So, if you're looking to bring kind of the healthiest fat to your table, what are some diets that you can look at that are established and you could get a whole eating plan out of it?

Anna Taylor: So, it's a funny thing when we talk about diets, I think everyone always thinks short term, but really we're talking about eating patterns — eating patterns that you could put up with for the rest of your life, that you could enjoy for the rest of your life. Over and over again. The thing that is always time tested and really proven to be a great eating pattern, eating style, is the Mediterranean diet. It has many aspects that are heart healthy, that are anti-inflammatory, and support overall nutrition because every food group is represented.

John Horton: Roll through some of the things that are in the Mediterranean diet. What are the main foods that are in there? What's it based on?

Anna Taylor: Mediterranean diet is based on the more traditional way that people around the Mediterranean in Europe used to eat. Now, that's starting to change over time, but we're talking about the traditional eating pattern. So, nice thing about Mediterranean, all six food groups are represented. We have fruits, vegetables, great starches that are primarily wholegrain starches, and starchy vegetables. We have lean protein sources, that's going to be things like beans and making sure that we're getting some lean chicken, we're getting some fish, some seafood — remember some of that fish is rich in omega-3s. And then of course, we're going to have some low fat or fat-free dairy in there and some healthy fats, mostly those plant fats.

John Horton: Any other diets that you could recommend that might be worth trying, if you want to have a diet that's really based on healthy fats?

Anna Taylor: When it comes to heart health, Mediterranean keeps winning and winning and winning. Every time we have a standoff, Mediterranean seems to continue to win. So, it is true that there are similar eating patterns to Mediterranean, but sometimes, they're misinterpreted or miscommunicated by certain books or videos. For example, if you just do a quick web search of something like anti-inflammatory diet, technically, an anti-inflammatory diet is great, but if you search that people are going to end up making recommendations that don't align with what really is an anti-inflammatory diet. A pesco-vegetarian diet can be great. If you do a quick search, you might not come up with the right kinds of recommendations, but Mediterranean is one of those time tested eating styles that typically, if you're reading up on it, getting recipe books about it, if you're listening to videos about it, it's going to be described pretty consistently.

John Horton: Well, and I think one of the things you mentioned earlier, which I think is key, is that the Mediterranean diet is not just a, “we're going to do this for two weeks to try to drop a size.” It is more of a lifelong eating plan.

Anna Taylor: Yeah. And one of the exciting things about Mediterranean is it's not just good for your heart. Over time, it does create some weight loss. It's not the fastest weight loss plan out there, but at the one-year mark, it has comparable weight loss to a lot of other those fad diets that, let's not lie here, you probably only be able to follow for a couple months anyway. So, that's definitely something that I think is great about the Mediterranean diet, is that it is sustainable because it's realistic and has those variety of foods.

John Horton: All right. When we were talking about the Mediterranean diet, boy, that word just does not flow out easily.

Anna Taylor: Try being a dietitian.

John Horton: So when you're talking about the Mediterranean diet, heart disease is what comes up a lot with that. So, how important is managing fats for your heart health? I mean, does it really make that much of a difference?

Anna Taylor: Absolutely, it does. So, when we talk about heart health, there's only so many things that we can control. We can't go back and choose our parents for a different genetic predisposition, but we can change our lifestyle to support our healthiest potential. And by changing our lifestyle, that means two main things. We have our nutrition and our dietary choices, our food choices that we make every day, and our activity level. And we talk about our food choices. One of the most important things we can do for heart health is to decrease saturated fat intake and also increase fiber intake, which is found in plant foods that are rich in the Mediterranean diet. And then, also making sure that we are at a healthy weight and we're exercising regularly. And of course, as ever, not smoking.

John Horton: Definitely, that's always good. And you brought up exercise and I just want to make sure we touch on this. I've read where you cannot out exercise a bad diet. I mean, is that a truth there?

Anna Taylor: Yeah, so the specific phrase that I love the most is “you can't outrun the fork” and it's absolutely true. So, it all comes down to what someone's goal is, but the vast majority of Americans struggle with excess weight. And so, when it comes to trying to lose weight, making the right food choices is going to be 75% to 80% of the battle. If someone only changes what they eat, they're not going to see significant weight loss, especially not for women. That's what the research supports over and over again. Exercise by itself, without any dietary changes will still improve your heart health. It'll still improve your risk for diabetes, or your blood sugar control. It'll still improve your blood pressure. By itself, it is a powerful thing, but is it going to change your weight very much? And the answer is no. Exercise alone can help prevent weight gain or regain, but it's not going to help very much with weight loss. We know that having a healthy weight is so important for heart health. So yeah, we have to look at the entire equation in order balance things out.

John Horton: All right. Well, as long as we're talking about still staying lean, if you eat healthy fats, I mean, will that help keep you trim and in the size that you want?

Anna Taylor: So, eating healthy fats in small amounts will help you stay fuller for a longer period of time. And that can mean decrease snacking between meals. For example, I meet so many people who just eat a banana at breakfast at 7 a.m., and they expect that to carry them until 12:00. And then they wonder why they're reaching for donuts mid-morning. Eating a little bit of healthy fat, a little bit of protein and a fiber-rich carbohydrate at most of your meals is going to help you get from one meal to the next without having lots of hunger that leads you not just to have a snack, but maybe not to have a healthy snack.

John Horton: And it sounds like when you're pulling those snacks, you should look for, then, more of those healthy fats or fruits. And that will help fill you up a little bit and carry you to the next meal.

Anna Taylor: I recommend at snacks to do a similar pattern is what I recommended meals. A snack, I recommend a fiber-rich carbohydrate and pairing that with either a healthy fat and/or a lean protein. So, for example, having just an apple is probably not enough of a snack for most people who are more active, or are trying to go more than a couple hours between meals. You might do an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, might be a better option or a handful of almonds. Some people might say, "Oh, I'm just going to eat carrot sticks for my snack in the afternoon." And what's going to end up happening is once they get home, they're going to reach for the bag of chips. So instead, what about carrots with hummus? So, that you have some additional healthy fats made from tahini, which is a sesame seed, as well as your fiber from your carrots. That's going to keep you fuller for a longer period of time, carrying you from point A to point B.

John Horton: All right. And when we're talking about weight gain, too, or just weight in general, if you have a diet that's heavy in the unhealthy fats, I take it that's going to show?

Anna Taylor: It's not just that saturated fats are rough on our heart. They're also really rough on our weight. And mostly that's because Americans, we eat so many of them. We have a diet that's full of high fat animal products, and there's another source for saturated fat that's in a lot of foods, there's one main plant source for saturated fat, and that's the tropical oils, palm oil and coconut oil. So, neither of those oils are good for our cholesterol levels, and it's not good for our heart health, but because there's so many of these sorts of unhealthy fats in our diet, it ends up being a huge excess calorie source and that contributes to weight gain over time. For example, a tablespoon of butter a day, a hundred calories a day, is 10 pounds of weight gain in a year if it's eaten in excess of your needs. So, it adds up very quickly. And now, it's not just one year. People are doing this every year, or maybe it's the coffee creamer they're using, or maybe it's the ranch dressing on their salad. It all adds up. And so yeah, our intake of saturated fat is definitely a big problem in our society.

John Horton: Yeah. Now, you had mentioned coconut oil there. I always think that's one of those things that most people, you hear coconut and you go, "That's got to be healthy. It's got to be good for me." So, is coconut oil bad?

Anna Taylor: Yeah, for most people it's not a good idea. The problem with coconut oil is that it got a really, really good reputation, very quickly through marketing. And unfortunately, it was never backed up by the facts of that research shows us. So, coconut oil is not a good idea. It's not a good food to be including regularly. The exception for that is, every once in a while, I'll have a patient come in who is eating a whole food, plant based diet. They don't eat any processed foods, they're not eating any meat, they're not eating any dairy. And for that reason, they have a little bit of room in their budget for saturated fat. So, if they occasionally want to use a food that has saturated fat, they have to turn to a plant oil, like a coconut oil. Other than that, I really don't recommend to have that on a regular basis for most people. It'd just be an occasional treat, just like the ice cream I mentioned earlier.

John Horton: Is some of that, when you look at coconut oil or coconut butter, I know when you see ... I mean, it stays solid. I mean, is that one of those things that you should look at and go, "Man, this is not something that's probably going to do well when it gets in my body."

Anna Taylor: Yeah. It's another little rule of thumb that works pretty well when trying to distinguish between saturated fat, the bad fat and the good fats, the unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, typically.

John Horton: OK, all right. We have covered just a ton of ground here. There's a lot to chew on, I guess, to throw that out. Is there anything that we haven't covered that's important for people to know regarding fats in their diet and how they can just eat healthier?

Anna Taylor: I think the thing that's really important to remember is that it's not just about the fats in your diet. We want to think about the entire foundation of the diet. You don't want to hyper-fixate on just one aspect of your diet. "Oh, it's only about saturated fat. I don't need to focus on anything else today." Instead, I want you to make sure that you're really focusing on including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, that you're eating lean proteins, that you're including, sure, some healthy fats that you're choosing low fat or fat-free dairy. And then you're drinking lots of water, you're avoiding sugary drinks. You're getting regular exercise. I know it's a tall order, but instead of thinking about it all or nothing, focus on just little choices that you can make every day. Every meal is an opportunity to make some good choices and every day is an opportunity to be active, and that looks different for different people. Start with wherever you are and keep moving forward, you've got this.

John Horton: Awesome. Anna, thank you so much for being with us today and speaking with us on this helpful topic. You've given just some incredible information.

Anna Taylor: I'm so glad you had me. It's been such a pleasure, John.

John Horton: Thank you. If you'd like to learn more about working with a registered dietician for your health, visit clevelandclinic.org/nutritiontherapy, or call 216.444.7000. Thanks for being with us today, bye bye.

Speaker 1: Thank you for listening to Health Essentials brought to you by Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children's. To make sure you never miss an episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or visit clevelandclinic.org/hepodcast. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the latest health tips, news and information.

Health Essentials
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Health Essentials

Tune in for practical health advice from Cleveland Clinic experts. What's really the healthiest diet for you? How can you safely recover after a heart attack? Can you boost your immune system?

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit, multispecialty academic medical center and is ranked as one of the nation’s top hospitals by U.S. News & World Report. Our experts offer trusted advice on health, wellness and nutrition for the whole family.

Our podcasts are for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. They are not designed to replace a physician's medical assessment and medical judgment. Always consult first with your physician about anything related to your personal health.

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