Are these facts or myths?
- Fat makes you fat.
- A fat-free diet is an important part of any weight loss program.
- Cardiovascular disease is linked to the consumption of fats, especially saturated fats and cholesterol.
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats keep food fresh longer and are therefore healthy.
- The new man-made fats like Olestra allow one to “have one’s cake and eat it too.”
Actually, all of the above are myths. In the 80s and 90s fat was demonized and low fat was the diet mantra. Since then we have been living in a fat-phobic world. People have been consuming less saturated and animal fats and more processed fats, and more sugar, refined carbs, and processed foods. The result has been Americans’ have been getting fatter and sicker. This has led to more research, new information, and a new era of eating healthy fats and a lower saturated fat diet.
Fats should be part of a well-balanced diet. Adequate quantities of high quality fat are crucial for good health. Here are some of the functions that healthy fats perform in our body:
- Concentrated source of energy
- Absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins: K,A,D, and E
- Protection for internal organs and cells
- Provide the building blocks for cell membranes and many hormones
- Slows the release of sugar into the bloodstream
- Important for brain health
- Keeps skin, hair, and nails healthy
- Needed for healthy nerves
- Provides feeling of satiety and enhances flavors
What about weight gain? Many people think that eating fat leads to extra pounds. However, the opposite is true and an increase in high quality healthy dietary fat helps people control their weight. As study done at the Harvard University School of Public Health found that those consuming less sugar and starches and more fat lost more weight than low-fat dieters. Fat sends a “stop eating” signal to the brain so consuming too little fat can end up contributing to overeating.
What makes fats healthy (good) or unhealthy (bad)? Healthy fats are those that come from whole foods, are unprocessed, and are naturally occurring. Unhealthy fats are man-made fats and fats that have been damaged by high heat or oxygen, refining, and over processing. Free radicals are then created which attack and destroy body tissues.
Good Fats vs. Bad Fats
Fats, made up of fatty acids, fall into two categories: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. These fats differ in their chemical properties and structure. Within the two categories of fats, there are three types of fats in our diets: saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats. Saturated fats remain solid at room temperature and are heat stable at high temperatures. Examples of saturated fats include coconut oil, butter, and animal fat. The shorter chain fatty acids, found in coconut oil and butter, provide unique antimicrobial, anti-tumor, and immune-system supporting properties.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats that are liquid at room temperature and solid when chilled. They can be used for medium heat sautéing. Examples of foods with this type of fat include olives, olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, sesame oil, nuts (cashews, almonds, peanuts, Brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios), and nut butters.
Polyunsaturated fats, referred to as PUFAs, include Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. These fats are liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated. Examples of these types of foods include walnuts, seeds, raw dairy, corn or sunflower oil, as well as, fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, and tuna).
Omega 3 and 6 fats are called essential fatty acids. The body does not make these so they must be obtained from foods we eat or from supplements. Omega 6s must be balanced with Omega 3s. If they are over-consumed they can lead to inflammation and subsequent chronic health conditions. Omega-3s can reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, keep blood thinner and healthier, and are necessary for brain development and function. Three of the most common Omega 3s are EPA, DHA, and ALA. These are found in supplements such as fish or flax oil, or in foods like cold-water fish.
Unhealthy fats include partially hydrogenated fats (margarine, vegetable shortening, vegetable oils), processed and packaged foods (including snack foods and buttered popcorn), fried foods, store bought baked goods, trans fats found in fast food, salad dressings, mayonnaise, sauces, pizza, ice cream, chocolate candy (except 70+% cacao dark chocolate), and processed cheese and meats.
How much healthy fat do we need? The American Heart Association recommends that total fat intake not exceed 25-35% of total daily calories. Generally, individual requirements are based on genetic make-up, metabolic rate, activity level, and health. It is important to eat high quality fat, and obtain fat from a diverse selection of clean and sustainable plant and animal foods for a balance of all fatty acids. One serving of fat is equal to 1 tablespoon of fat/oil OR 2 tablespoons of nuts and seeds. Four servings would equal 20% of a 2,000 calorie/day diet. The consequences to eating too much man-made saturated fats are not only weight gain, but it can cause cholesterol to build up in the arteries, ultimately leading to heart disease and other chronic health conditions.
In conclusion, don’t fear fats! Keep in mind that not all dietary fat is created equal, and you should consume more healthy fats at the expense of unhealthy fats in your diet. Consume healthy, traditional sources of fat found in whole foods and avoid the products with new man-made fats. Eat foods high in healthy fats such as nuts, fish, and avocados. Use healthy cooking oils. Limit or avoid foods high in saturated fats such as processed, fried, or fast foods, that can raise your blood cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease.
For additional information or questions contact Lynn Tandler, Certified Nutrition Consultant in the Wheat Ridge office at 303-333-3493, ext 2.