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Enjoy that juicy steak

5 March 2013

Enjoy that juicy steak

In recent years saturated fat has been viewed as the enemy of the heart.  Emerging evidence has suggested that not all forms of saturated fat may damage the heart and some may, in fact, protect the organ.

Stearic acid is found in beef, pork, skinless chicken, olive oil, cheese, chocolate and milk.  Studies have shown that this type of saturated fat has no adverse effect on cholesterol or other risk factors of heart disease.  This suggests that red meat and chocolate may be relatively guilt free indulgences.

One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that eating lean meat on a daily basis improved cholesterol levels.  This was attributed to the presence of stearic acid in the food.  The tests looked at participants after 5 weeks of the daily lean meat diet and showed a 5% drop in total cholesterol and 4% drop in ‘bad’ cholesterol.  This is quite similar to those on a diet high in fish, protein and vegetables.

Dr Michael Roussell, one of the study authors from Pennsylvania State University, said, “Unlike processed meats such as sausages and ham, unadulterated red meat brings a unique, heart-healthy blend of fats to the table.”

Many nutritionists believe that misconceptions have led consumers to believe that all saturated fat is bad, when a sensible amount of those rich in stearic acid is acceptable to eat.

Glenys Jones, a nutritionist at the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research Department in Cambridge said, “There are different forms of saturated fat, and stearic acid isn’t linked to heart disease.  Other forms of saturated fat, such as the fat in butter, have a much stronger association and, of course, too much of any fat will result in obesity, which is a risk factor for heart disease itself.”

Dr Carrie Ruxton, an independent dietician, said, “There is no conclusive link between cardiovascular disease and red meat that contains some fatty acids, such as stearic acid, that protect the heart.  There is less saturated fat in a grilled pork steak than in a grilled chicken breast with the skin left on.”

Obviously this is not a sign to start having that bacon sandwich more often or gorging on Easter eggs as, on average, our intake of saturated fat is 20% more than the upper limit set by the Government.  The key is therefore moderation.

BNF nutritionist, Dr Emma Williams, said, “There is definite evidence that stearic acid has a neutral effect on cholesterol and cardiovascular risk.  However, in many foods stearic acid is lumped together with other saturated fatty acids which are less beneficial and can contribute to a rise in risks. The truth is that no one has ever said people should cut out animal fats completely.  Just eat them sparingly.”