Many Americans cringe at the very thought of a discussion about fat. The problem is much information about fat is flawed or misunderstood. It’s time we had an open and honest discussion about fat. The topic today will cover 2 kinds of fat. The first is fat in our foods and the second is excess body fat or adipose tissue.
Fat has gotten a bad rap over the last 50 years. Many Americans believe that fat in their diet is the main culprit behind our obesity epidemic. It’s true that fat has played a role in our weight problem but it is certainly not the leading cause. Keep in mind weight gain or loss depends mostly on calories in/ calories out.
So, what is fat? Dietary fat is necessary for life. We need fat to metabolize vitamins A D E and K. Fat is also necessary for energy and cell growth. Healthy fats in your diet also help you lose weight, feel better, gain muscle and strengthen bones. Body fat also protects your organs and helps regulate body temperature. There is a catch. Fat is calorie dense. There are 4 calories in each gram of protein or carbs. While fat delivers 9 calories in each gram, while alcohol has 7 (FYI). You can read any food label and figure out where the calories come from with some simple math. Fat is good for you, just don’t over-do-it!
Fat comes from 4 major categories. Trans fats, saturated, monosaturated and polyunsaturated. Omega 3 fats come from the polyunsaturated family and are critical for optimal health. Trans fats are by far the worst for your health and should be avoided. Look for the word partially hydrogenated on the label of packaged foods. Avoid those products as much as possible. Trans fats raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol). Trans fats cause inflammation, which is the root cause of many maladies. Trans fats also contribute to insulin resistance. They also significantly increase the risks of heart disease, strokes and sudden fatal heart attacks. Read your labels! Many countries and cities have banned the use of trans fats altogether.
About a hundred years ago a chemical process was patented to add hydrogen to vegetable oil making it solid at room temperature. It gave products a longer shelf life and enhances taste and baking qualities. For decades Crisco and other similar products were used without the dire health consequences we face today. Why? Simple, we were much more active in decades past. We have become much more sedentary and rely on prepackaged and fast food much more for our everyday busy lives. Wholesome nutritious meals cooked at home are much less common today than in earlier generations.
So, what foods have healthy fats? Avocados, olives, eggs, peanut butter, nut butters, tree nuts and unsweetened flaked coconut to name a few. When using oils for cooking or making salad dressing olive oil is your best choice. Specialty oils like walnut, avocado and grapeseed can be good choices but often cost more. As a general rule, use oils with less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon and no trans fats. Remember though, fats have more than twice the calories of other foods. Tracking foods and calories is a proven strategy for weight loss.
It’s important to understand the role of Omega 3 fatty acids in our diets. Our bodies cannot make omega 3, so they must come from the foods we eat. Omega 3 fats are in 3 types, ALA, DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA are mostly found in salmon, mackerel and sardines. ALA comes mostly from plant sources. The most important thing to remember is the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3. Ideally, 3 to 1 or 2 to 1. The average American has a 15 to 1 ratio. The high amount of omega 6 fats in our diet come from refined oils (corn, soybean, safflower, sunflower, etc.). Cut back as much as possible on omega 6 sources. Do your own research!
The key points I would like you to take away from this article are fats are necessary, trans fats are very bad and wholesome foods should be the mainstay of your diet. Ultimately, these are your choices. You and your family deserve health and well-being! It all starts with food! High quality FOOD!