Avocado, Peanuts, and Cheese, Oh My! Fat-free, low-fat, reduced fat, Oh No!
There are so many confusing messages on diets in today’s social media realm. So, what are we REALLY suppose to believe? Let’s break it down. Fat is essential for a healthy body for many reasons including:
- Brain: Fat is key for brain health, composing of over more than 50% of the entire brain.
- Organs: Fat protects and cushions our internal organs from external damage.
- Satiety: Fat keeps us feeling fuller for longer.
- Digestion: Fat is essential for absorption of certain vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K).
So, does the type of fat really matter? Yes.
This is likely the biggest disconnect in today’s society amongst fad diets. Healthy vs. unhealthy fats are crucial when maintaining a healthy diet. Trans fat, saturated fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega 3 and omega 6) fats are the most common fats listed on nutrition labels. So, what’s the deal on each of these fats? Let’s break it down even further.
Is produced when vegetable oil is heated to high temperatures called hydrogenation. As a result of this heating process, the oil is stable and is used as a preservative to increase shelf life in foods such as baked goods, chips, crackers, and multiple fried foods. When adding fat to your diet, avoid trans fat products as much as possible. Thankfully, most manufacturers in today’s food industry have banned trans fat in the production of food products. Trans fat has been shown to raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and decrease your HDL (healthy) cholesterol. As a result, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases.
Probably the biggest controversy in today’s argument against fat. The biggest food trend, high in saturated fat is coconut oil. Coconut oil is very high in saturated fat (almost 90% is composed of saturated fat). Consuming large amounts of saturated fat in the diet can raise LDL cholesterol which increases the risk of heart disease.
HOWEVER! Coconut oil also raises HDL cholesterol, deeming it a healthier fat than its counterpart trans fat. Use this type of fat sparingly since consuming large amounts of saturated fat can lead to increased health risks. The source of saturated fat is key. Coconut oil and some nuts are high in total and saturated fat. Consume these in moderation. Cookies, chips, fatty meats and fried foods should be consumed during special occasions (holidays, birthday parties, family gatherings).
When consumed in moderation, monounsaturated fats have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, which helps reduce the risk of heart disease. Sources include avocados, nut butter, olive oil and canola oil.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats, omega-3 (linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic acid). Omega-3 fats are noted for their role in brain function, growth, and development. Salmon, walnuts, flaxseed and wheat germ are excellent sources of omega-3 fats.
Omega-6 fats are effective in lowering total cholesterol, which reduces the risk of heart disease. While omega-6 fats are more prevalent in the average American’s diet than omega-3 fats, one should focus more on increasing omega-3 fats in their diet than omega-6 fats. Limited research suggests that an excess amount of omega-6 fats can lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease. Common sources of omega-6 include oils, salad dressings, nuts, and pork.
Overall, is fat a friend or foe? Depending on the type of fat, this question has two answers. Fat is a friend AND foe! Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, seafood and some oils are key for everyday health. Consume these in moderation daily. One should limit their consumption of “bad fats” found in cookies, boxed meals and processed meats to 2-3 times a week. Always research and talk to your doctor or a Registered Dietitian before adding or reducing certain types of fat in your diet. Your CDL Wellness Coach can help with meal and snack ideas to help you meet your fat consumption goals too!
Courtney Vaughan-Lane, Rolling Strong Wellness Coach