Fats have been seen as the dietary enemy for years, but research is piling up against this belief. In fact, it now seems clear that choosing healthy fats and limiting unhealthy carbohydrates is a better strategy for controlling weight and improving health. For years, nutritionists and the media touted a low-fat diet to control weight and reduce heart disease, America’s #1 cause of mortality. You may have grown up associating dietary fat with body fat and blocked arteries, but recent research has clearly disproved this nutrition myth. It’s just a little too simplistic. As a friend likes to say, “The idea that eating fat makes you fat is similar to saying that eating sugar turns you into sugar… it just doesn’t work like that.” Healthy vs Unhealthy Fats The public health message has referred to “fat” as a single nutrient for years. In reality, there are many types of fats, and some are better than others for your weight and health. The worst fats include trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated oil. These are man-made fats found in commercially baked breads and pastries, Crisco and margarine. They have been linked directly to increased heart disease and overall mortality. Healthy fats tend to be unsaturated, and particularly mono-unsaturated like those found in nuts, seeds, avocado and olives. These healthy fats can fight inflammation and lower your risk of heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, these fats are so good for you that the Journal of the American Medical Association published an Opinion Article in June stating that the upper limit for consumption of all fats should be lifted, stating, “Based on the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s recent recommendations, this Viewpoint
urges the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Health and Human Services to remove limits on total fat consumption in their 2015 Dietary Guideline to promote consumption of healthful fat.”
This would have been unheard of a decade ago.
Healthy Fats Over Unhealthy Carbs
According to the New York Times article we referenced in our last post, unhealthy carbs such as added sugars and refined starches are damaging to your waistline and health. Choosing healthy fats instead can lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, and reduce hunger. Think avocados, nuts, peanuts, flaxseeds and olive oil, and not candy, white rice, pretzels, and sweetened beverages.
Fat is an Essential Nutrient
The truth is, you need fat in your diet. Every cell in your body is surrounded by a protective layer of fat. Your hair, teeth, nails, and skin depend on fat to be healthy. Fat allows proper brain and eye development, as well as a healthy metabolism. For optimal health and nutrition, the National Institute of Health (NIH) and USDA suggest aiming to get 20 to 35 percent of your calories from fat, or 44 to 77 grams of fat per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. And as mentioned above, current scientific evidence suggests lifting the upper limit entirely as healthy fats have so many benefits and reduce disease.
Healthy Fats Can Aid Weight Loss
It is true that fat contains 9 calories per gram, which is more than twice the calorie density of protein and carbohydrates, which each have 4 calories per gram. These stats can tempt you to minimize your fat intake, thinking you will limit your calories and lose weight. But resist the temptation.
Fat in your diet can help you control your weight for a number of reasons.
- Healthy fats actually trigger your brain to feel full.
- Fat lowers the glycemic index of foods that contain carbs. That makes these foods slower to digest, so your blood sugar levels are more stable. This helps keep you satisfied for much longer compared to a high-carb snack on its own.
- Low-fat and fat-free foods can have more starches and sugars than their full-fat versions, which digest quickly and don’t keep you satisfied, leading you to eat the same, if not more calories.
- Add pecans or other nuts to your oatmeal or cold breakfast cereal.
- Spread peanut butter on toast instead of having it plain.
- Snack on gluten free protein bars. All Zing Bars are made from a nut butter or seed butter base, so they all provide a nutritious dose of heart-healthy mono-unsaturated fats.
- Put sliced avocado in your chicken wrap at lunch.
- Add flaxseed or other seeds to salads and sandwiches.
- Drizzle olive oil when roasting vegetables.
- Choose salmon or another fatty fish instead of meat.