On Nutrition: Is a calorie a calorie

Happy Monday! I’m still in the thick of things at the annual Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (FNCE) in Atlanta. While I’ve been away, I had my latest “On Nutrition” column appear in yesterday’s Seattle Times, “Don’t just count calories – eat the right ones.” Check it out if you haven’t already.
On a related note, I attended a wicked early (6:15 a.m., which felt like 3:15 a.m.) breakfast seminar, “Making Sense of the Latest News on Dietary Fats,” sponsored by the Almond Board of California. One of the speakers was Frank Hu, MD, PhD, of Harvard School of Public Health, who’s published, oh, a zillion or so research papers (many of which I’ve read).
Among other things, he discussed the recent controversy, played out in scientific journals as well as in mainstream media and the blogosphere, about whether saturated fats were now, in fact, “back.” 
“We can not look at saturated at in isolation,” Hu said. “It’s not useful to say saturated fat is good or bad.”
What matters most, he said, is what people are eating instead of saturated fat when they try to reduce it, or what they are eating less of if they decide to actually eat more saturated fat. “It’s not useful to have people cut back on saturated fat if they are going to fill their plate with refined [high-glycemic index] carbohydrates.”
Eating fewer high-saturated fat foods and replacing them with low-glycemic index carbohydrates has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, Hu said, citing specific research studies. Similarly, replacing red meat (rich in saturated fat) with fatty fish like salmon (rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fats) or plant food rich in polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and olive oil also reduces the risk of heart disease.
Hu wrapped up his talk by pointing out that it’s important when making decisions about what to eat, it’s important to think of the food sources of fat rather than the fat itself: “Fat is not a food, we are not eating isolated fats.”
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