Random memory from a summer in college: I was working as a waitress in a somewhat upscale restaurant. I was closing and I was starving. They had delicious food, so I got my usual salad and decided I wanted buffalo shrimp, too. The shrimp wasn't breaded, just fresh and sautéed in homemade buffalo sauce - talk about yum. When a coworker pointed out to that buffalo sauce was made with butter (somehow I didn't know this), and I genuinely freaked out. Suddenly, I was repulsed. I actually would not eat anymore and was angry with myself for eating the sauce in the first place. I went from enjoying a food to refusing to eat it - all because of butter (crazy, right?). Why the heck did I react like this???
In college I was taught the conventionally held belief that fat is bad. I was taught reducing fat intake would reduce chronic disease, and prevent weight gain. I avoided butter (see above), bought low-fat cheese, and ate carton egg whites. What is worse, I pushed it on my family - sorry family. I had no idea this was actually a restrictive way of eating. In addition to being super controlling around food (see above again), I was always hungry at night and rarely satisfied after a meal. It wasn't until I got curious, and decided to read and learn on my own, that I found the truth about fat.
Now, I cringe when I hear people talk about this or that "low-fat" food they ate. I want to scream "FAT IS GOOD!" It is good for you and it is delicious. Fat creates satiety, satisfaction, and fullness - wins all around.
If this is the first you are hearing about the benefits of fat in the diet then take a deep breath, because yes, everything you have been told about fat is wrong. If you avoid fat and/or buy fat-free or low-fat food items compare the food label with a full-fat variety. What are the differences? Just about everytime you will see a longer ingredient list, and a higher sugar and sodium content in the reduced/low/no-fat item. These things are added in an attempt to create the mouthfeel/taste of the fat they have taken away. If you ever feel unsatisfied or still hungry after one of these low-fat foods, you are victim to the trickery.
So how could we get fats so wrong? An epidemiological study many decades ago started us full force down the anti-fat track and only now are we finally starting to question it (see here, here, here...) Removing fats inadvertently led to increasing carbohydrate intake, specifically refined sugar, and that is a major issue. There is more research coming out each year that questions the conventionally held belief that dietary fat and cholesterol are predictors of heart disease. [You can check out my TV segment on healthy fats for diabetes control/ prevention here.] Science continues to shed new light on the fat debate, but we don't always get the latest information in a timely manner.
Fats aren't the bad guys we once thought, here is a simple breakdown of what you should understand about the different types of fats. Make your own decisions about what you should be eating. I bet you find that you can start adding fats BACK into your life.
Monounsaturated fatty-acids (MUFAs) are found in many foods including: olive oil, canola oil, avocado, almonds, lard, beef tallow, soybean, peanuts and macademia nuts.
MUFAs favorably change the blood lipid profile when they replace carbohydrates in the diet. They can also be protective against diabetes and help with blood sugar control. By now you have heard about how awesome the Mediterranean diet is and olive oil is a big component of that.
Also known as PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) are ridiculously good for you. The body cannot produce these fats so they are considered essential. The two most common PUFAs are omega-3's (n-3) and omega-6's (n-6).
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a common n-3 found in flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts. The fish oils EPA and DHA are also omega-3 fats.
Linoleic acid (LA) is a common n-6. Sources of n-6 include soybeans, corn oil, meat, eggs, some dairy.
Many Americans eat a Standard American Diet (SAD) which is high in carbohydrates and processed foods that contain unhealthy fats and excess sodium. The SAD is known to be too high in n-6 fats compared to n-3's. With this type of diet, the ratio of intake of n-6:n-3 is somewhere around 15:1. This promotes inflammation in the body and inflammation is at the root of many chronic diseases. A ratio of 2:1 to 3:1 is actually the ideal ratio for an anti-inflammatory state in the body. This means, we need to focus on getting more omega-3 fatty acids into the diet! Eat fish 2-3 times per week, add nuts or chia seeds to your morning, and consider taking a fish oil capsule!
There are so many benefits for PUFAs, including decreased cardiovascular disease. The fish oils especially are associated with a number of benefits such as improvement in depression, arthritis, blood pressure, cognition, and more.
Not all saturated fats are the same! There are different types including stearic, palmitic, and several others that contain medium chain triglycerides (MCT). Saturated fats are found in animal products and byproducts, cocoa butter, coconut oil. There are also some industry made saturated fats in the form of vegetable oils that are used in food processing and production. Each type of saturated fat can have a slightly different impact on health and blood lipid values. Instead of breaking it down fat type by fat type, as many foods contain a combination, your best bet is to avoid the industry made saturated fats. These are the man made vegetable oils that are used to fry foods, and used in baked goods and sweets. When we focus on the natural sources of fat, such as dairy, we decrease the amount of heavily processed foods we are eating and THAT is healthy.
Cutting back on saturated fats is beneficial to your health when you replace them with more PUFAs and MUFAs, NOT carbohydrates. While intake of sat fats may increase LDL cholesterol (deemed the "bad" cholesterol - tho not all LDL is inherently bad) it also decreases triglycerides (we want to keep these low) and increases HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol - we want this level high). Remember this: There is not enough evidence to show saturated fat actually causes disease.
The take home
Enjoy your saturated fats from real food sources! Limit those that lack nutrients or are dense in sugar and carbohydrates. I am giving you permission to eat butter - and cheese. Yes there is saturated fats in these foods, but they increase the satiety of a meal immensely. You are missing out if you are skipping out.
Are bad. We know this. It is undisputed. Stay away at all costs from the commercially produced, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils that are used in many store bought baked goods and frostings. If the trans fat content in a food is < 0.5 g per serving the nutrition facts label can read 0 g. This can cause your trans-fat intake to be much higher than you might intend. Read your labels. The phrase "partially hydrogenated" is your signal that there is trans-fat in that item.
I hope I have convinced you to add fats back into your life!!! If you need some inspiration, or don't know where to start, check out this post I wrote about ways to add healthy fats into your day!
Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will talk more about the roll of fats in the diet for those with diabetes.
Comment below and let me know your favorite fat!