The moment I hit “publish” on my last post, I had second thoughts. First, I realized it was my third recipe in a row featuring kale. Oops. But even more concerning, I remembered the big nutrition news of the day that had meat lovers everywhere rejoicing. Hopefully my article on the benefits of grass fed meat wasn’t contributing to the bacon feeding frenzy.
In case you missed it, here’s the recap. On Monday, new research was published examining the relationship between specific types of fat and heart disease. Researchers looked at nearly 80 studies involving almost 500,000 people and concluded that saturated fat, the type mostly found in animal foods, does not increase the risk of heart disease.
Now, before you polish off that bacon double cheeseburger, let me be the one to inform you despite the media portrayal, this study isn’t a license to go on a t-bone bender. I don’t consider the results an endorsement for meat, but rather a strike against the outdated single nutrient, or reductionist, approach to nutrition.
It’s easy to categorize unsaturated fat as bad and unsaturated fat as good. Certainly, I’m guilty of using this simple explanation more often than I should. Afterall, foods like red meat, processed meat and fast food, which are clearly correlated with heart disease, are high in saturated fat. Protective fats, like olive oil, nuts and avocados contain mostly unsaturated fat. So it would make sense to avoid high saturated fat foods and eat more unsaturated fats. But there are many exceptions to this rule. For example, dark chocolate and coconut are high in saturated fat, yet the specific fatty acids have a neutral, or slightly beneficial effect on cholesterol and heart disease risk. And unsaturated fat isn’t always good. Although these fats lower cholesterol, some types, like corn and safflower oil, have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
Yet multiple studies show a clear link between meat-eating and heart disease, and a significantly lower risk for vegetarians and vegans. So what does this all mean?
It means we’ve been blaming the wrong guy all along. Saturated fat made for a convenient scapegoat. But it’s the Standard American Diet, excessive in animal foods, sugar and refined carbohydrate, and woefully inadequate in plants, that’s the real culprit. It’s easy to avoid a specific nutrient, but it doesn’t exactly get at the heart of the problem.
So, with more and more studies vindicating saturated fat, how do we incorporate this new knowledge into dietary practices? First, remember this study doesn’t discount the heart protective benefits of minimally processed, plant based fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocados, so continue to use these foods as your primary source of fat. Nor does it discount the benefits of omega-3 rich fatty fish, so eat more fish than meat and poultry. If you do eat meat and dairy, work towards a flexitarian pattern and choose organic and grass fed. And put down that dry, tasteless peice of boneless, skinless chicken breast! If you’re eating a plant-based diet, feel free to enjoy full fat dairy, a pat of butter, or a no-so-lean cut of meat.
The moral of the story? The single nutrient approach is dead!
- 1 cup whole grain rice (I used pink rice, because it's pretty)
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 lb firm tofu, drained and pressed, then cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 6 scallions, chopped
- 12 ounces fresh spinach
- 1 cup kimchi
- 2 large carrots, julienned
- 2 tablespoons miso paste
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- ¼ cup water
- Optional garnishes:
- Chopped green onions
- Sesame seeds
- Five spice powder
- Chopped peanuts
- Cook 1 cup whole grain rice according to directions in a pressure cooker or on the stove.
- Make dressing by whisking miso, sesame oil, soy sauce and water until smooth.
- While the rice is cooking, whisk soy sauce, ginger, and garlic in a large bowl. Add tofu and toss to coat evenly with marinade. Set aside for 15 minutes.
- While the tofu is marinating, bring a large pot filled with 2 inches of water and set with a steamer basket to a boil.
- Heat coconut oil in a medium skillet on medium-high heat. When hot, add green onions and stir fry 2 minutes until tender. Add tofu and stir fry another 3-4 minutes until tofu is lightly browned.
- Meanwhile, steam the spinach 2-3 minutes until tender and wilted.
- Divide rice between four bowls. Divide the tofu, spinach, kimchi, and carrots evenly between the bowls. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish as desired.