Clearing Up Consumer Confusion on Healthy Fats

Handsome Young Man Shopping For Fruits And Vegetables In Produce Department Of A Grocery Store - Supermarket - Shallow Deep Of Field

A significant body of research supports the unique health benefits of moderate fat diets that emphasize foods with unsaturated fats. Despite the evidence, consumers continue to be puzzled about the health benefits of unsaturated fat and fats in general.

Confusion over fats was addressed by experts at the 2015 Experimental Biology meeting in Boston including a panel on: “A Healthy Approach to Dietary Fat Consumption: Understanding the science and taking action to clear up consumer confusion.” I spoke on the panel along with Drs. Dariush Mozzafarrian, Frank Hu and Penny Kris-Etherton. Our mission was to set the fat record straight, undo the age-old focus on low fat diets, and inspire researchers to communicate clearly when speaking with the media.

Saturated fats are commonly found in meat, butter, dairy, coconut and palm oil. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats promote heart health and are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seafood seeds and avocado.

Key take away points from the panel are summarized here:

  • Unsaturated fats are an essential component of a healthy diet and despite the 2010 Dietary Guideline advice to replace saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats to reduce risk of heart disease, fear of fat continues. According to a survey by the International Food Information Council, 67 percent of people try to eat as little fat as possible (IFIC, 2014).
  • Strictly avoiding unsaturated fats can have consequences. “The different types of fats can be confusing to consumers, but all fats are not created equal and the impact on one’s health can be significant,” according to Kris-Etherton. Healthful sources of unsaturated fats have important health benefits, especially when consumed in the context of a healthy dietary pattern.
  • Despite consumer beliefs that they should follow low fat diets, research supports high-unsaturated fat Mediterranean-style dietary patterns for weight loss and reducing heart disease risk (Estruch, 2013 and Jensen, 2013). Yet, shifting the focus off of low-fat diets and onto dietary patterns that include unsaturated fats remains challenging.
  • To help consumers understand the role of fats in the diet, when communicating science to consumers, researchers were urged to limit findings to three key messages, condense complex information into motivating messages, and deliver them simply, using 6th-8th grade reading level.

Health professionals have an important role to play in disseminating messages to consumers about fat intake (both type and amount), as well as, how various foods like eggs fit in a balanced diet.


Reference Citations

Proceedings from this panel are being submitted for publication in Advances in Nutrition.

International Food Information Council (IFIC). “2014 Food and Health Survey: consumer attitudes towards food safety, nutrition and health.” International Food Information Council Foundation, 2014.

Estruch, R, E Ros, J Salas-Salvado, MI Covas, D Corella, F Aros, E Gomez-Gracia, V Ruiz-Gutierrez, M Fiol, J Lapetra, et al. “Primary prevention of cardiovascular disease with a Mediterranean diet.” N Engl J Med 2013;368(14):1279-90. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1200303.

Jensen MD, Ryan DH, Apovian CM, Ard JD, Comuzzie AG, Donato KA, Hu FB, Hubbard VS, Jakicic JM, Kushner RF, et al. “2013 AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society.” J Am Coll Cardiol 2014;63(25 Pt B):2985-3023. doi: 10.1016/j.jacc.2013.11.004.


Kathleen-Zelman-150x150-140x140Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, is part of the Egg Nutrition Center Health Professional Advisory Board for which she receives compensation in exchange for contributing to this blog. However, all opinions reflected in this post are the authors.

Stock media provided by [ibrakovic]/

Scroll to Top