Popular opinion is hard to dispel, especially following decades of questionable research and misguided advice repeated all too often by medical professionals and nutritionists alike. Despite the uphill climb, there's mounting evidence that saturated fats provide vital human health benefits . . . and trans fats are shortening lives. For dairy products and unprocessed meats, that is great news because both are rich in life-enriching saturated fats known as HDLs.

The latest evidence supporting saturated fats was published in the widely respected British Medical Journal. For years, fats have been demonized by the medical community for their link to heart disease. However, as case studies mount, the scientific community is discovering that saturated fats provide anticancer benefits and significantly lower the risk of heart disease.

Not only do these fats nourish bodies with protective qualities, the dairy products that carry these life-enhancing fats also are crucial sources of vitamin D, phosphorus and calcium. These three essential dietary nutrients also play a pivotal role in lowering blood pressure.

Milk, butter and cheese are among the dairy products that are rich in saturated fats. So, too, is red meat. But there is a word of caution . . . avoid dairy and meat products that are highly processed because some additives may circle back to the trans side of the fat equation. However, the FDA's proposed rule to ban trans fats could wipe this concern off the table.

Separating saturated and trans fats is part of the story. Severely limiting fats from the diet has also become a concern. Some nutrition researchers speculate that the trend to remove fats from human diets over the past four decades may have fueled the obesity epidemic. The theory goes like this . . . fats are a major source of food flavor. When food companies eliminate fats, they often add sugars to improve taste. That supplemental sugar has expanded our waist lines, caused more hypertension, and has proliferated other metabolic issues such as diabetes and heart disease.

While the trans versus saturated story continues to come into sharper focus, not all medical professionals have embraced it yet. The next time you have a doctor's appointment, ask your physician for his or her opinion on fats. The discussion might turn to LDLs (low-density lipoprotein) and HDLs (high-density lipoprotein). Just remember, HDLs are the good fats found in dairy and red meat. HDLs help thwart heart disease, trans fats do not.

This editorial appears on page 82 of the February 10, 2014 issue of Hoard's Dairyman.

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