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Nutrition

Here’s Another Reason to Limit Saturated Fats

It can help more than just your heart health.

You probably already know that you should limit saturated (and trans) fats, as they can contribute to higher LDL cholesterol. LDL cholesterol is the bad kind of cholesterol, which causes buildups in your arteries that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. But did you know that limiting saturated fats could also be a good idea for your joints

In a recent study, researchers analyzed the diets of more than 2,000 people with knee osteoarthritis — which affects 27 million Americans over 25 years old — with follow ups for two years. They also evaluated the progression of the patients' osteoarthritis, measuring the amount of joint space width between the medial femur bone and tibia bone of the knee.

What they found: Increased intakes of total fat and saturated fat, specifically, were associated with worsening osteoarthritis. On the other hand, increased intakes of mono- and polyunsaturated fat (aka "good" fat) and a higher ratio of polyunsaturated fat to saturated fat intake were both associated with less deterioration in the joints. While a high-fat diet may also be correlated with being overweight, and thus putting more pressure on the joints, researchers think a link between types of fat and inflammation may also be at play, though more research needs to be done.

The researchers also recommended replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats — a healthy idea whether you have knee osteoarthritis or not. To reduce the amount of saturated fat that you're eating, try making the following simple food swaps. 

AT BREAKFAST

Skip this: A three-egg omelet with a side of bacon. One slice of bacon contains 3.5 grams of saturated fat, and a review of studies found that eating just one whole egg a day was not associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke.

Make this: Broccoli Parmesan omelet. This recipe replaces some of the whole eggs with egg whites, and comes with a side of fiber-rich sprouted grain bread to help keep you full. Plus, broccoli is great for arthritis sufferers — here are 18 more ways to cook with it.

AT LUNCH

Skip this: Turkey and swiss on a whole wheat wrap with mayo. Contrary to popular belief, a wrap is not necessarily a healthier option than bread. In fact, fat is what helps keep a wrap so bendy. A whole wheat wrap or tortilla contains 2 grams of saturated fat, while two slices of whole wheat bread contain less than half a gram

Make this: Tomato and avocado sandwich. Avocados are full of healthy fat and bring a creaminess that will make you forget mayo completely. Thanks to its sharpness, you only need a sprinkle of Parmesan, and lots of tomatoes and baby greens help you get in more veggies.

AT DINNER

Skip this: Pasta Bolognese. Though it's tasty, the ground beef in this dish can be high in saturated fats (and if you didn’t make the sauce yourself, it may be full of added sugars). 

Make this: Almond-crusted fish with spinach. Almonds are full of fiber and unsaturated fats, and fish come packed with omega-3s, a fatty acid that can help with inflammation. Simple additions of garlic and lemon juice are all baby spinach needs to become your new favorite side dish. 

AT ALL TIMES

Limit commercially prepared fried foods and baked goods, and when cooking at home, reach for natural unhydrogenated vegetable oils, like olive, canola, safflower, and sunflower oils. And try to eat more arthritis-friendly foods; test yourself on them with our quiz.

Of course, even with a healthy diet, you may still experience osteoarthritis flare ups. If that happens, try alternating between hot and cold therapy, consider an OTC medication like Advil to help with minor aches and pains, and give yourself permission to sit down and rest up.

Get more great health and wellness stories at EatingWell.com/Strive.