You might be thinking WHAT?!? But fat is bad, fat makes me fat? Why should I eat fat when I’ve been told to avoid fat at all cost…
Well we can thank the fat-free food craze that dominated the food industry in the 1980s and ’90s for leaving a mark on our menus and grocery stores. During that time people wore sunglasses at night, strapped a sweatband straight across their forehead before Jazzercise class and big hair was in while fat was out — of everything.
While dietitians urged consumers to stay away from fatty foods people pushed aside healthy foods like almonds and exchanged it for grains. This lead to a rise in obesity, which left many Americans wondering why. . . they were just doing what they thought was right and avoiding fat.
But, when you extract all fat from your diet (good and bad) you are more likely to be hungry. Take away the fats from a healthy body and you will likely have a diet that is starch (which turns to sugar and causes sugar cravings) heavy.
Fat is actually good for you – but it must be the healthy kind (I know, healthy fat sounds like an oxymoron). Fat is a major source of energy, helping us absorb necessary minerals and vitamins. It is also needed to build cell membranes. But all fat is not created equal!
Too many of us cut fat willy-nilly and replace it with refined carbs, so we miss out on the benefits of healthy fats, says Suzanne Rostler, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Framingham, Mass. What’s more, eating lots of refined carbs—like white bread and white rice—can increase triglyceride levels, which can contribute to heart and blood vessel disease.
Adults should get 20% to 35% of their calories from fat, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
There are 3 main types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.
Tropical oils (e.g. coconut, palm, cacao)
Peanuts & groundnuts
|Most seed oils (e.g. canola, safflower, sunflower)
What is a “healthy fat”?
In popular terminology, the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are what most people refer to as “healthy fats.”
Yet, humans have likely consumed unprocessed forms of saturated fats (such as organ meats from wild game, blubber from seals and whales, milk, or coconuts) for their entire existence.
Humans evolved on diets consisting of marine life, wild game and/or inland plants, which provided abundant omega-3 and other unprocessed fats.
Early humans (and many hunter-gatherer groups today) consumed all parts of animals — including fatty tissues such as blubber, organs, and brains along with eggs from fish, fowl, and reptiles.
A good definition of “healthy fat” might be “relatively unprocessed fats from whole foods”
Trans Fat (The Bad Stuff)
Unhealthy fats are typically those that are industrially produced and designed to be nonperishable, such as:
- trans- fatty acids that appear in processed foods
- hydrogenated fats such as margarine (hydrogen is added to the fat chain to make a normally liquid and perishable fat into a solid and shelf-stable fat)
- most shelf-stable cooking oils (e.g. safflower, soybean, corn oil, etc.)
Trans fat is mega unhealthy; it should be consumed minimally, if at all. Trans fat is a result of hydrogenation, a process used to preserve food (think frozen pizza and fast-food cheeseburgers). Trans fat increases a person’s risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease. Humans made trans fat for convenience, and there is truly nothing healthy or natural about this human made product.
Saturated Fat (The So-So Stuff)
Occupying a gray area is saturated fat. Saturated fats are common in coconut oil, dairy products and other animal products. Like trans fat, consuming too much of this can lead to high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease. Saturated fats are not exactly healthy, but they are fine to eat in moderation. A yogurt for a breakfast or an occasional puff pastry is not going to wreak havoc on your body. Additionally, saturated fat provides energy and will repair cells.
Monounsaturated Fat (The Awesome Stuff)
Monounsaturated fat has fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to its carbon chains, meaning it can improve your cholesterol, curb your appetite and improve your overall health. In fact, most health professionals recommend having a diet rich in this type of fat. You can find this product in olive oil, most nuts, avocados and cold-water seafood, such as salmon.
Trade sour cream dip for hummus (which is rich in olive oil) or guacamole; use veggies or gluten-free crackers to dip.
Polyunsaturated Fat (More Awesome Stuff)
Polyunsaturated is another healthy fat that’s great for your body. It has the potential to lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease. Polyunsaturated fats includes omega-6 and omega-3 fats. These fatty acids are essential because our bodies do not produce them naturally. We can only get these fatty acids by consuming food. Similarly to monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat is found in walnuts, flax seeds, fish, soybean oil and safflower oil.
Much like big hair and blue eye shadow, the fat-free craze of the 1980s is a dead trend. Now, the focus is on balance. Rather than worrying about dieting or consuming too much fat, focus on eating whole, natural foods. Colorful veggies and fruits paired with proteins rich in healthy fat is the way to go.
AND if you’re anything like me, you will find that the protein and fat combo will keep you fuller longer, and you will notice a reduction in sugar cravings as you consume more nutrient dense foods vs starchy, calorie dense foods!
P.S. I would love to know fish, nuts, olive oil, guacamole, hummus — what’s your favorite way to consume tasty, healthy fats?