Please help me reduce the saturated fat intake from my diet
February 27, 2012 2:29 PM   Subscribe

(I know this will end up being quite lengthy), but the main question is to ask for some advice on how to reduce the amount of saturated fat in my diet.

So... I live in the UK and am a thin young male (in my 20s). I have recently been advised that the amount of saturated fat in my diet could be partially causing the problems I have with my gut/stomach and would thus like your help to suggest ways that I can reduce my saturated fat intake in my diet, but still enjoy the food I eat.

I have already changed the structure of my eating pattern so that I eat something every two hours and have a small lunch and a small dinner. The snack foods I eat in the early part of the day consist of raisins, salted peanuts and the odd biscuit. In the afternoons I might have a few biscuits and/or something sweet/sugary. In the evenings I eat organic pro-biotic yoghurt (with some fruit mix or fruit dipped into it). I do drink a fair amount of full fat organic milk; though I've switched to semi-skinned organic milk as of today.

My dinners vary from the occasional takeaway to a veg stir fry, omelet, veg soup, smoked mackerel with salad etc. If it's not takeaway, then it's always home-made, mostly with organic ingredients. My lunches mainly consist of dinner left overs or a sandwhich with lettuce, mayonnaise and cheese in or some peanut butter or pickle in.

I fear that my (possibly over the top) enjoyment of cheddar cheese, milk and feeling the need to slap mayonnaise onto anything edible may be the main offenders for me, but as well as them... can I get some others ideas for ways to reduce my saturated fat intake please.

Also, I don't smoke and due to the nature of my stomach condition, I don't drink any alcohol or caffeine drinks either.

Thanks in advance.
posted by sockpim to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You must stop eating animal products as much as possible. That is where your saturated fat overload is coming from. Every other solution will be a band-aid one that won't work as well as not eating that stuff as much or at all anymore.
posted by devymetal at 2:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Major changes to your diet will require time for the ecology living in your gut to adapt. I recommend taking enzyme tablets to help digest food during times of change. Oddly enough, my recent change has been to ADD a lot of saturated fat. For years, I used to eat a lot like you describe above, but my health was slowly degenerating. I was constantly hungry and snacking. But a couple months ago, I read about how CERTAIN TYPES of fats can be good for you, especially when sourced from organic, natural environments. So now, I start the morning with a grass-fed organic bacon-and-egg breakfast, and a "bullet-proof coffee" which has a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of coconut oil added to it. This satisfies me so much that I don't feel any urge to snack until lunch. I find that many dishes benefit from adding a tablespoon of coconut oil, and so has my health. Good calories, bad calories; good fats, bad fats. Read up on it.
posted by markhu at 2:42 PM on February 27, 2012

You need actual data. Something like FitDay will help you out; track your food for a week and look at your inputs. (I live in Ireland and was able to use it with metric portions.)
posted by DarlingBri at 2:54 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might help to learn a bit more about how to spot different types of fats--I remember reading an article about how saturated fats were those that were mostly solid at room temperature (including whole milk and egg yolks), while healthier unsaturated fats were those that were liquid at room temp. That really helped me think in a visual way about substitutions that would reduce my level of saturated fat intake. For example, now I make scrambled eggs with olive oil + one egg + one egg white, instead of two whole eggs scrambled in some butter. Tastes just as good if not better, and then I can 'save' my saturated fat for something I really want, like heavy cream in my coffee. Here's a table adapted from the Culinary Institute of America that might be a simple starting point for more research.

And on preview, +1 to DarlingBri's point about data. Finding your true culprits will help you modify your diet accurately.
posted by stellaluna at 3:00 PM on February 27, 2012

You must stop eating animal products as much as possible.

This advice is basically useless, given the huge gulf between, say, boneless skinless chicken breast and filet mignon in terms of saturated fat and the saturated fat present in many non-animal processed foods.

I agree wholeheartedly with the "actual data" requirement with the further caveat that if the person advising you about the saturated fat was not a medical doctor or the UK equivalent of a registered nutritionist, you should rely on the advice of the latter two groups exclusively (well, nurses would be good to include too) in matters of health.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 3:04 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

nurses would be good to include too

No, they wouldn't. I have encountered numerous nurses who have not been trained in nutrition (or who forgot their training) and were no better than a layperson.
posted by Ardiril at 3:33 PM on February 27, 2012

When you say 'advised' that your diet is too high in saturated fat, you mean by a doctor? Your diet doesn't really sound off on first read. If it's not a doctor saying this, you might want to start with one because you sound like you're basically eating good food.

Face value on your question though -- lean protein, like turkey, or chicken, might be a good replacement for your cheese-centric lunch, and mustard is a solid replacement for mayonnaise on sandwiches, and you can skip the yogurt at night in favor of fruit.

But really -- that sounds like a pretty good diet so if you haven't talked to a doctor you might want to speak to one to rule out things like food allergies or stress related illnesses.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:53 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

cheddar cheese, milk and...mayonnaise...may be the main offenders for me

From your description, that sounds about right. But tracking your diet for a few weeks will tell you for sure. Seconding FitDay.
posted by orangejenny at 4:46 PM on February 27, 2012

You might find that avocado satisfies some of your cheese and mayo cravings, and it's really great for unsaturated fat.
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 6:48 PM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Who told you that saturated fat is causing your problems with your gut/stomach? What, specifically, are your gut/stomach problems?

I'm not a doctor, but I am scientist in the biomedical realm, and I've never heard of saturated fat causing gut/stomach problems. Saturated fat is typically associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity (wrongly, but that's besides the point), but not gut problems. In fact, a few Google searches find absolutely nothing to support this notion.

Their are many more likely causes of gut or digestive problems. Carbohydrates, especially refined carboyhydrates (white flour, white rice, and the worst, sugar) are far more likely to cause these sorts of issues than fat because the bacteria that live in your gut love to eat carbs and convert them to gases that cause bloating and 'the shits.' Plus refined carbs are just all around awful for you.
posted by imagineerit at 6:49 PM on February 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

My partner has a medical condition that requires he follow a very strict low saturated fat diet. He eats vegan mainly, with occasional egg whites and seafood. Also off the menu: coconut, palm oil, blended vegetable oil, transfats in any quantity, anything fried, chocolate. On the menu: moderate avocado and nuts for fat/protein, loads of veggies, grains, legumes, home-made almond milk, cocoa, tofu. I eat like this most of the time too and we both feel significantly healthier. Only drawback is things take a bit of planning and prep - no takeaway or instant meals when we don't feel like cooking. (FWIW/anecdata, my own, quite awful, stomach issues have abated significantly since eating this way.)
posted by t0astie at 8:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

In addition to being quite high-fat, your diet seems to have very few fresh fruits and vegetables, no whole grains at all, and very many empty calories from sugar and white flour. All of which will catch up with you sooner rather than later. I'd suggest addressing the larger diet picture rather than focusing only on saturated fats.

It's actually quite challenging (but do-able) to get all the micro-nutrients you need, without getting too many calories. It's pretty much impossible if you're eating substantial quantities of full-fat dairy and processed food. But don't take my word for it: run the numbers yourself, turn it into a game, and find out what works for you.

Here's the idea: get some decent nutrient-tracking software (e.g., the free and open-source CRON-o-Meter), and use it to record what you eat. Set some reasonable goals for yourself, based on generally accepted nutritional guidelines (e.g. no more than 30% of your calories from fat, and less than 10% from saturated fat), and see what it takes to get 100% of your recommended vitamins, minerals, and fiber without going over your daily recommended calories (usually around 1800-2500 cal/day, depending on your size and activity).

If you track your nutritional intake throughout the day, you'll start getting a very good idea of the kinds of calorie-dense but nutrition-poor foods that you simply can't eat a lot of without completely ruining your chances of "winning" the day (i.e. getting to 100% of nutrients without busting your daily calorie maximum and your fat-calorie ratios). You'll probably notice that you need copious quantities (full servings, not mere 'garnish') of several different fresh vegetables to have any chance of "winning" the day, that fruit help your numbers a little but not nearly as much as the veggies, and that while a little full-fat dairy/mayo might fit into your diet, you don't stand any chance of making the numbers balance if you eat a lot of it.

So, I strongly encourage you to try this. Run the numbers yourself, meal by meal. See what works, and what doesn't work, objectively.
posted by Dimpy at 11:51 PM on February 27, 2012

Just a small hint for your mayo addiction, try hommous in sandwiches instead. Very tasty.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 3:33 AM on February 28, 2012

You missed out very important things in your question, like your height, weight and the condition you are suffering from. So this advice is going to be rather general. I have a chronic GI disorder and I watch my diet like hawk. I read EACH AND EVERY label. If I don't know any ingredient, I am not eating it.

Having said that, may be your problem is not saturated fat at all. Saturated fats have been given a bad rep but the fact is Omega6: Omega3 ratio in our diet is royally screwed, compared to that of our grandparents. Omega6 is inflammatory in nature and that causes loads of troubles. Saturated fats are important building blocks of many hormones in our body. I heavily include saturated fats like coconut oil, Indian ghee (if you are in UK, there is no shortage of Indian ghee) or good quality butter. Use no other spreads that you find in your local supermarket, use ghee instead, it will melt on toast though so be warned but you can use it in cooking.
Do not use oil with PUFA for frying purpose. Use saturated oils instead, like coconut oil. PUFA are promoted as healthy but when you fry with them, you don't really know what chemical reaction is going on their at unsaturated bonds. Also, it turns rancid so you can not reuse.

Saturated fats from animal produce have become more and more controversial. I totally gave up on meats. But that avoidance is more inclined towards the kind of toxins I am getting from animal farming. If I find a farmer selling meat from traditionally farmed animals i.e. grass-fed and no hormones, I will go for it.

What is your sugar intake? Reduce sugar intake as much as you can. Thats just empty calories. An adult should not be eating more than 12 tbsp of sugar (compare that to a bottle of soda, I think thats 8tbsp). Avoid fructose from non-fruit sources like plague (high fructose corn syrup for e.g). Recent studies have shown that fructose is also inflammatory. (I don't have scientific references to prove it but have been reading a lot lately). If you have a sweet tooth, go for Stevia. Avoid refined flour like plague. May be you want to add Psyllium husk powder at bedtime in your routine (it helps cleaning up your GI system, plus removing toxins)

You eat salted peanuts and biscuits. Thats one source of saturated fats, if you are still on the thinking line that saturated fats are the problem. Bake your own cookies. If you use this stuff for grazing, use walnuts, pine nuts, brazil nuts instead. Add raisins and cranberries to this mix and this mix is brilliant. No salted cashews or Pistachios. If you want them, use unsalted.

For probiotic yoghurts, thats sham. Danone and others are telling us how good is their yoghurt. Its crap. If you really want yoghurt, get whole milk yoghurt from reputed dairy or brand and take probiotics separately. I do the same. Do not cut down to fat-free milk, you are just drinking additives-laden milk. Chemically, milk is an emulsion. If you take out fats, its going to instabilize that emulsion, something has to be added in to maintain that emulsion, so whats your choice? Sorta natural milk or chemical milk?

What is your water intake? Mine is 4 liters a day, in sips. I don't drink more than a glass at a time, except as soon as I get up, its at least 2 glasses.

What is your activity level? Aerobic exercise? You need to have active lifestyle. Get yourself Jamie Oliver's book. You already cook at home. He will help you cook tasty food. Thank God you have Jamie Oliver and not a 'great' cook like Paula Dean across the ocean.

That just comes on top of my head. One more thing, you have to be rather strict with lifestyle to see the effect. Good things come out slowly. It took about 2 years for me to see the difference. I wish you good luck. Good that you learned about required change in your lifestyle in your 20s and not late when its really too late.
posted by zaxour at 3:44 AM on February 28, 2012

The condition I have is chronic acid reflux (I've had it for 2 and a half years), which I used to be on medication for. Determined to not be on medication for the rest of my life I took myself off it. I'm doing ok, but I still feel ill a lot of the time.

I was told the info about saturated fats by a colleague at work who had the same thing (he had it for 18 months). He said he got it and then reduced his saturated fat intake, which helped a lot with it. I'm willing to try almost anything to try and reduce the discomfort at the moment.

(I've had an endoscopy, more blood tests than I care to remember and been on at least 8 different kinds of medication for it so far.)
posted by sockpim at 11:13 AM on February 28, 2012

Sorry Zaxour... I only just read your comment. I'm 5'11'', thin (weigh 143lbs) and do a 30 minute workout 5 days a week. with some walking/cycling here and there. I drink decaffeinated tea as my main source of drink, which is about 2L a day and then I'll drink half a litre of juice in the evening. I don't drink fizzy drinks much anymore either.

The reason I didn't state my condition in the question was because I have asked about acid reflux as a question before and haven't found any answers that helped with it.
posted by sockpim at 2:42 PM on February 28, 2012

The condition I have is chronic acid reflux (I've had it for 2 and a half years), which I used to be on medication for.

Reflux is a very complicated, unfortunately common condition. It is unlikely that reducing saturated fat intake will produce a measurable improvement in many cases given the variety of underlying physiological causes and the other potential food triggers. This is something you need to speak with your physician about again, to develop a plan to manage your symptoms and the risk of complications. I myself have intermittent reflux and it sucks but in my case it turned out to be easy to manage; you may find the same with good medical advice.

Determined to not be on medication for the rest of my life I took myself off it.

That's a goal that's divorced from reality. Most people in developed countries will take at least one medication for a prolonged period. Modern proton pump inhibitors and other drugs prescribed for reflux are relatively benign in terms of side effects and your physician can explain possible side effects to you. Reflux is a likely precursor to Barrett's esophagus, which is a possible precursor to esophageal cancer. In view of that, prophylactic treatment that has the very helpful additional effect of controlling your symptomatic discomfort looks like a good bet (absent contraindications).

In any event, you may not need medication to relieve your symptoms, but you need to work with a competent and motivated physician and not take the piecemeal approach you've used so far. Reflux is like high blood pressure, blood lipid / blood sugar problems, and any number of other nagging health concerns: you need to be proactive about seeking help to get to a place where controlling your symptoms is more or less automatic.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:26 PM on February 29, 2012

My husband has had pretty serious acid reflux for years and has tried all kinds of over-the-counter medication. We even put a board under the head of our bed to raise it up a couple inches. About three months ago, I was reading an ask mefi post about gout and stumbled on Whole30. For 30 days, we ate only clean meat, lots of veggies, coconut oil, olive oil, some fruit and nuts - no grains, legumes, dairy, sugar, or additives of any kind. We are about 3 weeks past completing this program and even though my husband has added cheese back into his diet, he hasn't had a single reflux attack. Except the dim sum binge he went on one day - that was bad. And we've been able to lower our bed back to being flat. From everything I'm reading, gluten is the culprit for all kinds of ills.
posted by ms_rasclark at 6:19 AM on March 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

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