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Low-fat eating: A women’s health issue

Does a low-fat diet reduce breast cancer risk?

Contrary to what experts have long suspected, research shows no relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer.

The research pooled data from seven previous studies in the U.S., Canada, Sweden and the Netherlands. By combining the studies, researchers were able to analyze data on 335,000 women (5,000 of whom were diagnosed with breast cancer during the course of the study in which they participated). The researchers found no relationship between fat intake and breast cancer, and concluded: “It appears unlikely that a reduction in total fat consumption by middle-aged and older women will substantially reduce their risk of breast cancer.”

Ask friends who’ve succeeded at the impossible—losing weight and keeping it off—what their ultimate motivation was, and many of them will say vanity. True, we all want to look our best, yet cutting the fat from our diets can do far more than take us down a dress size or two—it can literally extend our lives.

Besides causing obesity, high-fat diets are directly related to high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, heart attack and adult-onset diabetes. In fact, eating saturated fats (found in milk, cheese, butter, meats and palm and coconut oils) does more to elevate serum cholesterol levels than eating high-cholesterol foods such as egg yolks, organ meats and other animal products.

And while the jury is still out on the link between high-fat diets and breast cancer (see sidebar), studies point to dietary fat as a promoter of cancers of the colon, endometrium and other sites.

In short, it’s foolhardy not to cut the fat from your diet. If you’re confused about how much fat—and the type of fat—you should eat, stick to these guidelines and you’ll slowly but surely grow slimmer, leaner and most important, healthier:

  • Limit total fat intake to 30 percent of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils.
  • Avoid packaged, processed foods; they’re notorious sources of hidden fats. Crackers, salad dressings, cereals, nondairy creamers, muffins and other baked goods are prime offenders. Make it a point to read labels, and remember that each gram of fat contains 9 calories compared with 4 calories per gram for carbohydrates and protein.
  • Remove visible fat. Trim the fat from meats; de-fat soups, stews and sauces; and remove skin from poultry.

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