Face the Fats

(Condensed from the article “Face the Fats” by Matthew Kadey, MS, RD; Fitness Journal; April, 2018)

Fat plays essential roles in our bodies, including temperature control, hormone production and protection of our organs. Yet it has been demonized as dietary “Public Enemy One” being responsible for weight gain and a host of health woes.

New research and popular diets are helping fat rise above its bad-for-you reputation. Below we explore the latest research and clear up a handful of common fallacies.

The Myth: Eating Fat Won’t Make You Fat

For decades Americans were misguided by the message, “Eat Fat, Get Fat.” People simply replaced fat with something worse, processed foods full of refined carbs and added sugars, which are more strongly linked to weight gain. Butter and olive oil were out of favor; bread, rice, cereal and pasta were in. Not only did that shift take a metabolic toll on the body; it also created a culture of chronic overeating, since fat is essential for satiety; so low-fat eating left us wanting more.

Now the message is “Fat is where it is at.” But be mindful that while eating some fat is encouraged as part of an overall healthy eating plan, this is not an all-access pass to eating fats. Eating excess calories in any form will result in weight gain.

Bottom Line: Aim to get 20-30% of your daily calories from fat, which should be enough to dull hunger without overdoing it. So if you eat 2000 calories a day, that’s about 50-65 grams or so of fat.

The Myth: Fat-Free or Low-Fat is Healthier

When fat is lowered or removed from a food, you lose much of the flavor. To make up for the flavor shortage, sugar, artificial flavors and salt are added, which is hardly a nutritional upgrade. Using fat-free salad dressings, you won’t fully absorb the fat-soluble antioxidants that are found in vegetables. Having the fats (2% and Full Fat) in dairy will help in the absorption of calcium, Vitamin D and other nutrients.

Bottom Line: As long as you are mindful of portions, there is no reason you can’t enjoy foods that are closer to their natural, full-fat state.

The Myth: Coconut Oil is a “superfood”

Coconut oil has been touted as a weight loss marvel. If you simply add generous amounts of Coconut oil to your diet without cutting calories elsewhere, you’ll likely gain weight, not lose it. Replacing some oils and fats in your diet with coconut oil may lead to small reductions in body weight.

Bottom Line: If you like its flavor or the moistness it adds to baked goods, It’s probably fine to include modest amounts as a part of an overall healthy eating plan.

The Myth: Fat is the Best Fuel:

Athletes have been proudly trumpeting the fat-adapted approach to athletic success. Becoming more efficient in burning fat during exercise to “banish the bonk” has helped ultramarathoners and Ironman distance athletes race and perform better. But these athletes are working at a lower to medium intensity. When it comes to higher intensity efforts, your body relies more heavily on carbohydrates foe energy.

Bottom Line: If the sport of choice involves long periods of low- to medium-intensity exercise, reducing dependence on carbs by being fat-adapted may work for some, but for those who need to push all-out, it’s best not to banish carbs from the dining table. This doesn’t mean to rely heavily on carbs.

The Myth: Saturated Fat is Off the Hook

Recent headlines would have you believing that butter and bacon will lead to a healthier, leaner you.

While high intakes of saturated fats can be a marker of a poor overall diet, when saturated fats are replaced by refined carbs or added sugars, things are equally detrimental. It’s important to replace some of those saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats like those found in flax, walnuts and fatty fish which helps lower risks of heart disease.

Bottom Line: No one should think that eating loads of saturated fats is healthy. Limiting saturated fats to 10% of total daily calories is advised. Your fat eating efforts should focus more on the unsaturated variety, as modeled in the Mediterranean diet. But as long as your diet is dominated by whole foods, an occasional taste of bacon, cheesecake, or butter won’t do much harm.

The Myth: High Fat is Healthier than High-Carb

Depending on the foods you choose, you can eat a low fat, high-carb diet full of jellybeans and soda that’s terribly unhealthy and raises your disease risk, or you can eat a high-fat diet rich in fried foods that does the same.

It’s time to stop obsessing about micronutrient numbers and instead look at the actual foods we are eating. The longest living populations on the planet vary widely in their intake of total carbs and fat. What doesn’t vary is their focus on wholesome foods.

Bottom Line: People should look past simplified recommendations and instead look at their diets in the context of what they are eating overall. In other words, choose more healthful foods and the healthful fats and healthful carbs will take care of themselves in whatever percentage suits a person’s taste.

The Myth: Vegetable Oil is a Killer

Omega-6 fats are blamed for firing up inflammation in the body and setting the stage for poor health. Omega-6 is not inherently unhealthy. The problem is that the typical modern diet – thanks largely to the prevalence of processed package and restaurant foods, which are often made with cheap vegetable oils, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 has risen from 1:1 to 20:1. This skewed balance can interfere with Omega-3 metabolism, leading to health problems.

Bottom Line: People should fret less about adding some vegetable oil to their frying pan and instead focus on getting back in omega balance by reining in the consumption of processed foods rich in Omega-6 while simultaneously eating more fare rich in Omega-3 (flax, chia, hemp seeds, canola oil, salmon, mackerel and sardines. Grass-fed beef and dairy provide small amounts as well.

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