Twenty to 30 years ago, experts advised everyone to eat less fat, period. Cashews and olive oil were lumped into the same category as cheese and butter. Low-fat became the healthy eater’s battle cry — but to compensate — people ate more carbs such as pasta, and white flour and sugars. Trans fat in margarine replaced butter and was used in baked goods and other packaged products.

According to Dr. Frank Hu, Ph.D., professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, the problem is not that there is not an association between saturated fat and heart disease but that we swapped saturated fats with carbohydrates and added sugars making it a nutritional wash.

In a large, long-running study, Dr. Hu found that by replacing 5 percent of calories from saturated fats (such as fatty beef, lamb, red meat, poultry with skin, lard, cream) to polyunsaturated fats (such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry) reduced heart disease by 25 percent. There was no change in heart risk if you cut saturated fats but ate refined carbs in their place.

The following are a few suggestions to your approach to fats and your family’s diet:

1. Avoid trans fats. The good news is that in 2015 the federal government gave food manufacturers and restaurants three years to phase out trans fats and the deadline is spring of 2018.

2. Eat more foods that contain unsaturated fat. Avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish should all appear regularly on your plate. The latest U.S. dietary guidelines don’t put limits on these healthy fats as long as you watch the calories.

3. Follow a whole-foods, plant-based diet making whole grains, legumes, fruit, and vegetables the centerpiece of your meals. Minimize your intake of added sugars and refined carbohydrates and this will make you naturally eat less saturated fat in the healthiest way possible.

Eat healthy and have a happy holiday season.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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