Does eating fat make you fat? How much fat should I eat? Is there really such a thing as good fats and bad fats?
If you have ever asked yourself any of these questions, you are not alone. The amount of conflicting information about dietary fat can leave one feeling a bit overwhelmed!
First we were told to shun carbs and embrace fat with the introduction of the Atkins diet in the 1970’s. Fast forward to the 1990’s-fat was definitely out and “fat-free” everything was in! Remember the cheese that didn’t melt? How about those fat free cookies? They didn’t taste nearly as good as the real deal and were similar in the number of calories. But hey-they were fat free-so instead of one or two cookies, we ate the whole package and wondered why our pants were getting tight.
Fat has been in and out of style for decades. Adding to our confusion are the population studies that show low fat eating (some Asian diets) and higher fat eating (Mediterranean diet) are both good for us…definitely better than the Standard American Diet (SAD)!
Here’s one clue about Asian and Mediterranean eating plans that’s missing in SAD- vegetables-lots of them!
Here are the three facts to help you sort fat fact from fiction:
Fact 1: Plant fats are healthy fats. Exception: Coconut Oil.
Plant fats are unsaturated fats found in oils, nuts and seeds, avocado, and flax. Plant fats are the "good" fats because they don’t stick to arteries. The exception is coconut oil. You may have been led to believe that coconut oil is magical - but truth be told, coconut oil mimics the heart damaging effects of animal fats. In other words, it’s OK to have some once in a while, but there’s no reason to go out of your way to cook with it.
Fact 2: Animal fats are unhealthy fats. Exception: Fat from fish.
Animal fats are saturated fats found in meats and dairy. Animal fats are the "bad" fats because they stick to your arteries. Picture this-you fry up some bacon and leave the pan on the stove. That layer of white fat left behind is similar to what sticks to your arteries. The exception is fish. The type of fat found in fish is unsaturated (like plant fats) and has been shown to be anti-inflammatory. This is good news for your heart as well as the prevention of a host of inflammatory illnesses.
Fact 3: Trans fats are VERY UNHEALTHY fats. Exception: NONE
Trans fats are man-made fats. They were initially developed in the 1950’s as a cheaper and healthier alternative to butter. Hello margarine! By the time we realized that trans fats were WORSE than butter, they had already made their way into many familiar items on grocery store shelves in the form of "partially hydrogenated" fats. Common food sources of trans fats include many baked goods, crackers, canned frosting, and microwave popcorn.
How bad are trans fats? Trans fats are so bad that the Food and Drug Administration recently removed them from their list of ingredients that were “generally recognized as safe.” While many companies have already lowered the amount of trans fats in their food products, 2018 is the year they are to be banished forever.
The final word on fat
We need fat, not only to make our food taste good, but to help us feel satisfied between meals and to absorb important fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Because fat has twice as many calories as carbohydrate and protein, too much fat, even the good fat, may lead to weight gain.
The amount of fat that’s right for you depends on lots of other factors, including your medical history, genetics, activity level, personal factors, and cultural preferences . If you’re counting fat grams, a very low fat diet is about 20 grams of fat per day. It’s pretty hard for most of us to keep our fat intake that low.
If you’re starting to worry about keeping track of numbers, relax. Take a step back and focus on the quality of fat and how you are using it. Use plant based fats for flavor and texture when possible. Rethink your portion sizes of meat by making it an ingredient of a meal rather than the main attraction.
Now that you know the three important rules of fat, you will no longer be susceptible to fat foolery!