The word “fat” is severely misused in our society today. We are terrified to look fat, be fat, feel fat and worst of all, eat fat. Truth is, eating the right fats will not make you fat. Your body indeed needs fat for energy, warmth, cell growth, organ protection, and nutrient absorption. While good fats are heart healthy, consuming high amounts of bad fats can lead to heart disease. Misunderstood by many, “low-fat” diets are actually prone to increase your risk for heart disease. Here’s the low down on fats:
Americans are notorious for finding a shelf item at the grocery store, seeing a high number for fat on the label and putting it right back, as if they were touching a hot stove. They then reach for the alternative product that reads “fat-free” or “low-fat”. What they do not realize is that foods labeled “low-fat” or “fat free” are usually higher in refined carbohydrates, sugar and starch, which are worse than the fat that was originally in the product. These replacement ingredients used by the manufacturers cause our blood sugar and insulin levels to skyrocket and then plummet, much like a roller coaster. The various ups and downs leave us more hungry, overeating, and with a higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.
You may have thought you were doing yourself justice by reaching for that fat free alternative… Think again! Always read the labels and the ingredient list before you buy!
Now, back to the good and bad fats. There are four major fats: monounsaturated fats (I call them MUFAs for short), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), saturated fats and trans fat. The bad guys in the world of fats are saturated and trans. These fats are loaded with hydrogen, making them solid at room temperature. Bad fats increase your risk for diseases, type 2 diabetes and raise the bad cholesterol, or LDL, in your blood (but that’s a whole different blog post). Saturated and trans fats are found in products such as red meat and dairy products (butter, cheese, ice cream). They are also prominent in fried and processed foods, especially containing partially hydrogenated oils. Limiting saturated and trans fat is vital to a healthy, happy, heart.
Don’t get me wrong, bad fats taste delicious, I love ice cream and French fries… Who doesn’t? But they usually leave me feeling bloated, heavy and drowsy. In the end, good always triumphs bad, even with dietary fat!
I love good fats. They are extremely satisfying and if you’re a nutrition nerd like myself, are even fun to say! Monounsaturated (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are considered the good guys. These heart smart fats lower cholesterol and disease risk. They are oil based, so they tend to be naturally liquid at room temperature. MUFAs are found in canola, olive and peanut oil, nuts, seeds, and my favorite, avocados. While MUFAs are excellent fat sources they tend to be higher in calories so be sure to watch portion sizes! It is important to eat PUFAs because they contain essential fatty acids that our bodies do not naturally make. These essential fatty acids are known as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Look for your dose of PUFAs in nuts, seeds, fatty fish and vegetable oils like corn and safflower.
Incorporate healthy fats into your diet by cooking with olive or coconut oil. Use olive oil and fresh lemon juice as a salad dressing, choose lean meat and fish at the grocery store, and pack nuts for an on-the-go snack. You can even take fish oil supplements daily, giving you plenty of vitamin A, D and Omega-3s.
An important factor to remember with dietary fats is that they increase vitamin absorption. This is because dietary fat carries ingested vitamins through your intestines, bloodstream and then into the liver where they are stored for later use. If your body is fat deficient, it will not adequately absorb the necessary vitamins. You do not need an abundant source of fat for maximum vitamin absorption; if you want to get the most out of your daily vitamins all you need is a few sunflower seeds, almonds, or some bites of an avocado.
Don’t be afraid of fat, love it! Eat your MUFAs and PUFAs to fill your heart and mind with serenity. Eat mindfully and rightfully to exist peacefully.