The Skinny on FAT

grocery store shelves

Fat. It’s practically a dirty word these days. People seem intent on purging as much of this substance as possible from their diets. There are huge numbers of low fat and fat free products available at the grocery store, and a blog post about a low fat recipe is almost certain to appeal to a wider audience than one about anything high in fat. Some people seem to think eating high-fat foods makes your body actually fat. And therefore, that if you eat a low-fat diet, your actual body fat will decrease. Neither of these statements is proven true. I have decided to publish a post containing my knowledge on the subject of dietary fat, to try to clear up these misconceptions for some people. Even though I am not a doctor, I do have credible information from the ones I have spoken to at length on this subject.

nutrition facts cartoon

Different Types of Fat

Not all fats are equal. Some of them are actually bad for you, which have given fat in general a bad rap. But some are good for you, in fact essential for your health. And all are okay in moderation. But the bad fats must be limited more strictly, while the good fats can be consumed more regularly.

The two “bad fats” are saturated fat and trans fat. Saturated fat is considered to be the lesser of the two evils, and only makes a long-term impact if it is consumed to excess regularly. Then it can raise a person’s LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  A direct link has been drawn between diets high in saturated fat and heart disease, but this can easily be prevented by choosing low fat alternatives.

The other “bad fat,” trans fat is a much more serious enemy than saturated fat. Trans fat can clog the arteries if consumed to excess. It’s also unhealthy because it decreases HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and increases LDL cholesterol (the bad kind).

Now, on to the good fats! Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are both good for you, because they provide your body with essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture these acids itself, but they are essential for good health because they help your metabolism to function properly and your hormones to travel through your bloodstream to the areas of the body where they are required. Healthy fats also increase the levels of good cholesterol in the body and reduces triglycerides.

Foods Containing Bad Fats

Saturated fat is found in fatty animal products, as well as foods such as gravy dippings and butter. The foods highest in saturated fat are palm kernel oil, coconut oil, butter, beef, lard, and vegetable shortening.

Many highly processed foods are sources of trans fat and should be avoided. An example is butter: there are about 4 grams of trans fat in a tablespoon of real butter, and margarine has about half as much. To avoid the trans fat altogether, opting for Earth Balance original buttery spread provides all the taste with no trans fat. The main source of trans fat is fast food. Fast food restaurants are cheap partly because the food served is not always fresh… but you wouldn’t know it because trans fat has been deliberately injected into the food to increase its shelf life. Gross, right?

Foods Containing Good Fats

avocado

There are many sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat available. Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil are all good sources. Nut butters and nuts are also delicious and healthy sources of good fats to incorporate into a balanced diet. Earth Balance spreads are also sources. Monounsaturated fats can also be found in avocados, sesame seeds, and pumpkin seeds. Polyunsaturated fats are in freshwater fish, flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, and eggs.

How Much Fat To Eat

I can’t really provide a definite answer to the question, “how many servings of fat should I eat each day?” because I am not a dietician, and each individual has different nutritional needs. Even the UDSA food pyramid does not outline a firm, specific amount of fat to consume per day. It just tells people to use fats “sparingly.” And this is referring to foods that are solely categorized as fats, and can’t be placed into any other food group. For example, peanut butter is not in the “Fat” food group in the most up-to-date food pyramids. It has been moved to the “Protein” group right alongside meat and beans. This means it does not have to be used “sparingly;” have as much as seems reasonable to you considering the caloric density but also keeping in mind the amazing nutritional benefits!

Conclusion

So, as you can see, not all fats are created equal. Trans fats and saturated fats are not very healthy. However, polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are very healthy and necessary for the body to function. So get out the peanut butter and smear it on that sandwich! There is no need to feel bad about eating healthy fats!

peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Credits: http://www.odec.ca/projects/2004/thog4n0/public_html/typefat.html http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/fat/NU00262   http://caloriecount.about.com/calories-butter-i1145 http://www.earthbalancenatural.com/product/original-buttery-spread/ http://tomatotalk.earthfare.com/2010/05/12/10-foods-that-contain-good-fats-part-3/ www.medicalnewsservice.com

As always I would like to thank my dietician, Kerri Shwartz, MS, RD, for helping me be accurate in the information published in this post.

The photos came from the following sites: http://www.el3mentsofwellness.com/snack-5-egg-and-avocado-salad  http://www.fda.gov/food/resourcesforyou/consumers/nflpm/ucm275438.htm  http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/peanut%20butter%20and%20jelly  http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/02/18/experiencing-the-paradox-of-choice-at-the-local-schnucks-grocery-store/

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