The Story Behind Fats
Healthy fats. It almost sounds like an oxymoron. Who would have thought fats could be healthy when eaten from the right sources? The wave of fear for fats began in the 1970s when Senator George McGovern called a hearing to raise the attention of the link between diet and disease. During that time, the Capitol Hill restaurant menu consisted of high-fat options such as steak with claret sauce, buttered succotash, and pineapple cheesecake. As you can imagine, the senators weren’t in the best shape, and as a result during the 1960s and 1970s eight U.S. Senators died in office due to heart disease.
From the McGovern hearing the first set of dietary guidelines for Americans was born, the nation’s go-to source for nutrition advice that is published every five years. Almost overnight the food industry was turned upside down. High-fat packaged foods were revised into low fat or nonfat options and to make the products remain palatable food manufacturers replaced the fat with sugar.
Types of Fats:
What the government failed to mention was that the type of fat is the most important factor when talking about dietary fat.
“Good” fats consist of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These lower disease risk and are found in sources such as avocado, olives, vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds.
“Bad” fats include trans and saturated fat. These increase the risk of disease, even when eaten in small quantities. Trans fat come primarily from processed and fried foods and baked goods that contain hydrogenated vegetable oil. Saturated fat is found primarily in animal products such as meat, dairy, and cheese. Plant sources include coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa.
So What’s So Great About Them?
Believe it of not, our body needs fat. Dietary fat provides energy and support to cell growth. In addition, fat helps protect our organs and aid in keeping our body warm. Fats also are needed to absorb certain nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins and are needed to produce important hormones.
Monosaturated fats– studies show eating foods rich in monounsaturated fats improves blood cholesterol levels, which decrease heart disease risk. These fatty acids have been also associated with better insulin levels and blood sugar control.
Polyunsaturated fats– evidence shows that consuming foods high in polyunsaturated fats improve blood cholesterol levels and decrease risk of heart disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids– Omega-3’s are one type of polyunsaturated fat that is especially beneficial to the heart. It has been shown to decrease the risk of coronary artery disease. Plant food sources include walnuts, sunflower seeds, flax seed and chia seed.
Ways to Eat a “Healthy Fat Diet”
Instead of going on a low fat diet, try a “healthy fat diet”. Here are some tips to make sure you’re cutting out the bad fats while getting in your good fats.
- Choose whole, plant-based sources. The best sources of healthy fats are from whole, plant-based foods. These include nuts, seeds, avocado, and olives.
- Avoid animal products. Meat, dairy, and cheese are the top sources of unhealthy fat. These foods are high in saturated fat and calories but low in nutrient content.
- Check the ingredient list. Look out for any mentions of “partially hydrogenated oil.” This is a big, red light indicating the food product contains trans fats. By law the food manufacturer is not required to indicate trans fat if the product has less than 0.5g trans fat.
- Use oil instead of solid fats. While cutting refined fats is the best choice, the better choice if using oils versus solid fats. Canola or olive oil are good choices. Fats that solidify at room temperature such as butter, lard, and margarine are an indicator of saturated fat.
Fats 101. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2016, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/FatsAndOils/Fats-101_UCM_304494_Article.jsp#.VselSJMrJE4
Nutrition and healthy eating. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fat/art-20045550?pg=2
Why We Got Fatter During The Fat-Free Food Boom. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2014/03/28/295332576/why-we-got-fatter-during-the-fat-free-food-boom