This post was originally published on October 13, 2015 and updated on December 30, 2021.

It’s no wonder so many of us are confused about healthy eating. Even the nation’s dietary experts keep changing their mind about what we should eat and what we should avoid. If you’re confused about healthy fats, USC School of Pharmacy Research Professor Roger Clemens, DrPH, CFS, CNS, FIFT, FACN, FIAFST can help. At the 2015 Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference, he explained that healthy fats such as Malaysian sustainable palm oil are an integral part of a healthy diet.

Q: What are the latest dietary cholesterol recommendations?

Dr Clemens: The 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Scientific Report states that cholesterol is no longer a nutrient of concern. The available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol. This is consistent with the conclusion of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology report.

Q: Cholesterol is present in butter and other animal products. Is this new report encouraging people to eat butter again?

Dr. Clemens: It’s not that simple. The guidelines state that a diet lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health-promoting and associated with less environmental impact that the current U.S. diet. Although dietary cholesterol is clearly not an issue, this report isn’t a free license to eat as much butter as we want. We need to consume foods in moderation if we’re going to make a real difference in our health.

dietary guidelines slide

Q: In addition to cholesterol, total fat and saturated fat consumption guidelines have been modified over time. Can you explain the changes?

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Dr. Clemens: Nutritional science is dynamic. In the 1980s, the Dietary Guidelines suggested consumers avoid too much total fat and saturated fat. Over time, total fat guidelines have been upwardly adjusted with the 2010 Guidelines suggesting diets with up 35 percent of daily calories from fat. The 2015 executive summary suggests no upper limit for total fat consumption. Saturated fat guidelines have similarly evolved and now suggest including up to 10 percent in a healthy diet, and replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fat. This thinking may still be changing, however. Current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats.

Slide on fat guidelines


Q: Should the general population consume a low-fat diet?

Dr. Clemens: Low-fat diets are not recommended. Current dietary advice puts the emphasis on optimizing types of dietary fats and not reducing total fat. “The single macronutrient approach is outdated,” said Harvard University professor of nutrition and epidemiology Frank Hu, MD, Ph.D. says. “I think future dietary guidelines will put more emphasis on real food rather than giving an absolute upper limit or cutoff point for certain macronutrients.” University of Cambridge cardiovascular epidemiologist Rajiv Chowdhury, Ph.D. said, “My take on this would be that it’s not saturated fat that we need to worry about.”

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