22, December 2014 4:08 PM

Saturated Fat is Bad for You: A Pervasive—Yet Not Wholly Accurate—Perspective

Not to date myself, but my interest in nutrition emerged in the 70s, piqued in the 80s and matured in the 90s … the three decades when fat, particularly saturated fat, was considered the worst thing that could pass your lips. Not only would it deposit directly on your hips and thighs, causing almost overnight obesity, but it would practically lodge in your heart and lead to a sudden heart attack, quietly and with no warning. 

eggs and cheese are back on the breakfast menu with new saturated fat research As a result, we eschewed butter, cream, whole milk, eggs and gravy and minimized our intakes of saturated fat-laden meats and cheeses. A generation of foods was developed and marketed—that were low-fat or non-fat. We happily ate crackers and chips that were ‘baked not fried’ (and tasted like cardboard). We substituted margarine for butter and made chocolate chip cookies with applesauce or other fruit-based concoctions.

In my training as a dietitian, this paradigm was further reinforced. Patients with, or at risk of, heart disease (pretty much everyone) were steered away from saturated fats. Dieters were put on low-fat diets to save the 9-calories-per-gram that fats provided. Even cancer was associated with fats … and who wasn’t afraid of cancer? There was hardly anyone, except perhaps elite athletes, who shouldn’t be on a low-fat diet. Doctors, nurses, health educators … everyone in the health field agreed that saturated fats were bad for you. A look into the history of nutritional science sheds some light on how this myth was born and propagated into national guidelines.

The low-fat recommendations were based largely on a single scientist’s study, called the Seven Countries Study, which took place back in the 1950s. The scientist, Ancel Keys, looked at diet and heart disease data from seven countries, concluding that heart disease was directly linked to blood cholesterol levels, which were in turn linked to saturated fat intakes. Keys was so passionate about this relationship, and the data seemed so strong, that no one questioned him. 

He presented at national conferences. His ideas spread and powerful institutions, including the American Heart Association and National Institutes of Health, adopted them. Research dollars were made available to further his theory. Time magazine, the most influential magazine at the time, featured his story. During the 1950s and 60s the U.S. was immersed in a national epidemic of heart attacks and strokes, and people were hungry for ways to prevent these horrible fates. President Eisenhower had a series of heart attacks, eventually dying of heart disease in 1969. All in all, we were ripe for a solution and Keys provided it.

Saturated Fat and Heart Disease: A New Perspective

The past few years have uncovered serious flaws in Keys’ study design, and newer research has shown that this saturated fat- blood cholesterol- heart disease relationship is too simplistic:

  • Keys hand-picked the seven countries in his study. When other countries are included, the relationship between saturated fat and heart disease diminishes, if not disappears altogether. In fact, Keys has been accused of choosing only those nations that confirmed his hypothesis.
  • His was an epidemiological study—at best, it only showed an association. This would be like saying, ever since I bought a red car, I’ve gotten in a lot of accidents, thus the red car must be causing the accidents. True clinical studies that prove cause and effect are needed upon which to base recommendations.
  • We now know there are various types of cholesterol—such as HDL (healthy) and LDL (unhealthy), and subtypes of each—that have different effects on heart disease. Keys lumped all of these together to draw his conclusions.
  • Just like cholesterol, we now know there are different types of fat and saturated fat, all with different effects on blood cholesterol. Some types of saturated fat, such as those found in dairy foods, are neutral or even beneficial to heart disease risk. Again, Keys lumped all these saturated fats together.

Newer research is showing that saturated fat is not, in fact, linked to heart disease as once believed. A recent review that combined the results from 72 studies confirmed this, calling into question the recommendations to reduce intake of saturated fats. The June 2014 feature article of Time magazine was titled “Eat Butter: Scientists labeled fat the enemy. Why they were wrong.” Best-selling books are flying off the shelf, including one I recently read called “The Big Fat Surprise: Why butter, meat and cheese belong in a healthy diet” that summarizes the changing paradigm on saturated fats.

enjoy cheese in moderation again

So… Is Saturated Fat Good or Bad?

This puts us in a conundrum in nutrition, where the recommendations do not align with the new research.  Many people, health professionals included, are embedded in their old paradigms, but this new evidence suggests that it’s time to re-think these edicts. The bottom line is that saturated fat is not the demon once believed. Foods that were once avoided—like butter, eggs and whole milk—can be incorporated into healthy diets. Eating smaller quantities of highly satisfying food may be just what we need!

At the same time, this doesn’t give us liberty to eat one-pound hamburgers and bacon every day. Calories still count and body weight, physical activity and dietary patterns are more important than any specific food component. 

Before making any drastic changes to your diet, check with a dietitian or medical doctor to make sure it’s on track with your individual needs. And, don’t hesitate to share what you now know about the saturated fat topic!


Lori Hoolihan, Ph.D., R.D.N. 

Tags: healthy dietary patterns Healthy eating heart disease nutrition research saturated fat
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

15, December 2014 1:54 PM

nutrition lessons help keep students engaged before holiday break

Caught in a holi-daze? With students and teachers alike counting the days until winter break, December is a perfect time to order nutrition lessons in the classroom and give your students the gift of nutrition during this holiday season.

Since our lesson plans align with Common Core State Standards, you'll be teaching healthy habits and reinforcing key concepts in a fun and engaging way. Each grade level has a specific curriculum with 6 to 10 nutrition lessons. The lessons are based on a behavior-change model that encourages healthy eating behaviors and attitudes in your students. Students can practice lifelong health skills like decision making, analyzing influences and setting goals.

Our nutrition lessons are designed to be fun, easy and impactful. Each program is evaluated for results so you can feel confident your valuable class time is used effectively. Once you've completed your lessons you and your students can put them into practice immediately. Tie your holiday party into your nutrition lessons by planning a healthy classroom party with food group foods. Visit our Pinterest board for fun snack and activity ideas. 

Haven't ordered your lesson plans yet? Place your order today and get students thinking about healthy eating in the new year.

Happy, healthy holidays from Dairy Council of California! 

Tags: common core state standards holidays nutrition lesson plans
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

12, December 2014 3:32 PM

As a busy mom, I am always looking for easy, quick ideas for my children's Elf on the Shelf®. For those of you not familiar with this holiday phenomenon, Santa has granted our family a scout elf that flies back to the North Pole each night to report on whether the children have been good or bad that day. When your elf flies back to your home from the North Pole, he or she lands in a new spot, often finding a fun situation. When you've had your elf for several years and you are exhausted at the end of the day, coming up with new ideas can be difficult.

Here are some ideas that do more than monitor your children's behavior – they use your elf to role model healthy habits and remind the whole family to spend quality time together during this busy time of year. If you catch your elf doing something healthy, tag an image on any social media channel with #HealthyElf to be added to our Pinterest board.

elf on the shelf ideas for happy healthy kids

1. Elf on the Shelf® encourages brushing and flossing.

Whether your child is diligent with brushing and flossing or needs frequent reminders, you can use your elf to underscore the importance of dental health, especially after eating some of the sweets that your elf may bring.

elf on a shelf teaches kids to brush and floss their teeth 

2. Elf on the Shelf says, "Time to walk the dog!"

Winter weather can lead to cabin fever for every member of the family, even the dog. When your elf shows up carrying the dog leash, it's a perfect signal to make sure you are getting outside for some movement and play, even if it's a quick trip around the neighborhood when it's cold outside.

elf on the shelf ideas for healthy kids

3. Elf compares food labels to encourage healthy eating.

Does your child know the importance of checking food labels to find the healthiest foods? Help the elf and your child compare the cereals you have in the house. Plus, since the boxes will be out, you are already one step closer to a quick, well-balanced breakfast that morning!

easy ideas for elf on the shelf

4. Elves love to play games (especially if it's Candy Land and a friend is available)!

Does your Elf on the Shelf love to play board and card games as much as everyone else in the family? It's a great reminder to carve out some quality family time for fun during the busy holiday season.

easy ideas for elf on the shelf

5. Elf on the Shelf can't resist a good holiday movie.

While screen time should be limited for the children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, catching a fun holiday movie as part of an annual tradition is a great family activity (add popcorn and cocoa with milk for a healthy snack too!). You can set up your elf to be watching a looped video on the TV, browsing through your DVD collection or perusing NetFlix to find the perfect holiday film.

      elf on the shelf ideas easy and healthy

6. Elf on the Shelf sets up an indoor obstacle course. 

Winter weather keeping you inside? Set up an indoor obstacle course using jump ropes, pillows, yoga balls or whatever else you have in the house. Written directions can come from your elf, or you can have your kids come up with the course based on the "equipment" provided. 

obstacle course for elf on a shelf

7. Elf on the Shelf Helps with the Laundry

Have the littlest ones help you sort and put clothes away and the older ones start loads of laundry, transfer them to the dryer and fold. Let's face it, every parent needs an extra set of hands this time of year!

get good kids with elf on the shelf

 8. Even in the North Pole, elves wear sunscreen.

My son detests wearing sunscreen, even though I have tried different brands and application techniques. It's the perfect message for his elf buddy to deliver, reminding him of the importance of protecting his skin!

sunscreen is important to the elf on the shelf

9. Reading is Fun and Important!

Our friends at First5 Sacramento use their Elf on the Shelf, Cinco, to remind us how important it is to read, talk and sing to young children for language development. The emphasis on reading never goes away, and your elf can remind you and your children to read together – whether it's their favorite storybooks, a holiday tradition or a chapter book. 

ideas for elf on the shelf reading books


See Elf on a Shelf Ideas for Healthy Behaviors from last year.


LeAnne R. Ruzzamenti, MA
Director of Marketing Communications, Dairy Council of CA

Tags: healthy eating for kids holidays LeAnne Ruzzamenti
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating for Kids

11, December 2014 1:24 PM

Foods with Probiotics

Humans have long made and loved fermented foods like yogurt, kimchee and sauerkraut. But they probably didn’t know that their fermented foods weren’t just tasty, but helpful with digestion, too. It is only recently that we’ve learned about health benefits in fermented foods that go beyond the original ingredients.

Milk is made into yogurt and cabbage is made into kimchee and sauerkraut by harnessing the power of probiotics. These “good” bacteria break down sugars and fibers, changing the consistency of foods and adding different flavors.

Recent research indicates that probiotics don’t just make foods more delicious, they can also confer health benefits, improving digestive issues and building immunity.

Are Probiotics Good for Digestion?

Chronic digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and diarrhea can be improved with probiotics, and studies have concluded that probiotics can be helpful for these digestive issues.

Researchers believe that a “dysbiosis,” or imbalance of good bacteria versus bad bacteria may be the underlying cause for many digestive difficulties. This imbalance may arise after a course of antibiotics, which wipes out both the harmful bacteria it’s intended to, and the helpful bacteria, too. Probiotics can restore this balance and regulate digestion.

Lactose intolerance also gets a helpful hand from probiotics. People who have difficulty digesting dairy are often more able to eat yogurt, because the probiotics have already broken down much of the lactose for us. This means those with lactose intolerance can enjoy yogurt without feeling gassy or bloated.

The health benefits of probiotics are only now being investigated, with studies looking into the effects of probiotics on colorectal cancer, liver diseases, respiratory diseases and mood disorders. There are also studies investigating whether healthy bacteria can improve obesity and diabetes.

Luckily, probiotics make food delicious, as those who were making yogurt and kimchee thousands of years ago already knew. The ingredients – like milk – used to make fermented foods tend to convey a lot of health benefits on their own. The likely fact that probiotics are good for digestion, too, is just another great reason to try fermented foods today.

Claire St. John, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist 


Reid G, Jass J, Sebulsky MT, McCormick JK. Potential uses of probiotics in clinical practice. Clin. Microbiol Rev. Oct 2003; 16(4): 658-672.

Guarner F, Khan AG, Garisch J, et al. Global Guidelines. Probiotics and Prebiotics. World Gastroenterology Organisation Oct 2011.

Petschow B, Dore J, Hibberd P, et al. Probiotics, prebiotics and the host microbiome: the science of translation. Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 2013; Vol. 1306 Issue 1.

Tolo R, Suarez A, Clemente MG, et al. Intestinal microbiota in health and disease: Role of bifidobacteria in gut homeostasis. World J Gastroenterol. 2014; 20(41): 15163-15176.


Tags: dairy diabetes Healthy eating Probiotics yogurt
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

09, December 2014 2:32 PM

Simplify the Holidays: Reduce, Reuse and Repurpose!

Looking to improve your health and wellness in the workplace or at home? Here is your monthly Wellness Wake-Up Call. 

In December, we look forward to spending time with loved ones, but many of us dread the holiday drudgery of complex cooking, elaborate decorations and endless shopping. This time around, simplify the holidays and minimize stress with these tips to reduce, reuse and repurpose.

Try Spinach + Cheese Stuffed Shells for a festive Christmas dinner.

As a reminder to keep life in balance during this holiday season, put your poise to the test with an exercise that will help strengthen you core and improve stability in no time!

Read more and share the print-friendly version of the December Workplace Wellness Newsletter with colleagues or friends interested in health topics, delicious recipes and physical activity moves.

Dairy Council of California offers free monthly Workplace Wellness Newsletters as part of our Workplace Wellness Resources.



Tags: family meals Healthy eating healthy eating patterns holidays
Categories: categoryHealthy Eating

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