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Where Is The Evidence? continued...

"Saturated fats can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and even though a few studies showed it may improve the ratio of cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, they also showed an increase in LDL cholesterol and bottom line, any food that increases LDL cholesterol should be limited because LDL cholesterol is the main treatment target for heart disease," Kris Etherton says.

However, there is debate over the role of saturated fat and the role of LDL cholesterol.

Mozaffarian says LDL cholesterol is just one of many biomarkers for heart disease risk. "LDL is important but so is HDL and which is more important and relevant to good health is speculative so we should look beyond LDL in isolation to determine a food's health impact."

Most experts agree that to reduce the risk of heart disease, replacing saturated fats with healthier unsaturated fats is preferred. There is further agreement that more research is needed in the area of fatty acids and its relationship to health.

Sorting Out Fat Confusion

There are two basic categories of fats. Healthy fats are unsaturated and include vegetable oils, fish oils, and plant fats in nuts, avocados, and seeds. These fats should be the primary fats in your diet because they are either neutral or raise HDL cholesterol but don't raise LDL cholesterol.

The less healthy saturated fats found in animal fats and tropical oils, including coconut oil, are allowed, but in lesser amounts because they raise LDL cholesterol.

Trans fats in processed foods are the worst fats, capable of lowering HDL and increasing LDL, and should be kept as low as possible.

Food Is More Important Than Nutrients

Eating a nutritious diet that includes mostly whole foods and is balanced in calories is more important that worrying about specific nutrients and foods, Diekman says.

For instance, asparagus cooked in coconut oil is a better choice than partially hydrogenated coconut oil in baked goods but not necessarily better than asparagus cooked in olive oil.

What is most important is your overall dietary pattern. "We can't say coconut oil is healthy or not healthy, it depends on the rest of the diet," Mozaffarian says.

We eat foods, not nutrients, and if consumers paid more attention to choosing healthier foods, reading nutrition labels, and following the advice of the Dietary Guidelines, the issue of fats would be resolved.

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