Is Fat Really the Enemy?

Fat has gotten a bad rap as being unhealthy. Too many times the terms “fat” and “unhealthy” are used interchangeably. We may see someone overweight and make a judgement of that person being unhealthy. Perhaps they have some unhealthy habits which led to them becoming overweight, but it would be a mistake to equate the words fat and unhealthy. It would be an even bigger mistake to assume that all of our weight loss problems would be solved by cutting out fat from diets.

Indeed, there is such a thing as good fats. As Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD explains, “Fats are an important part of a healthy diet: They provide essential fatty acids, keep our skin soft, deliver fat-soluble vitamins, and are a great source of energizing fuel.” Ms. Zelman goes to quote The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines which recommend that adults get 20%-35% of their calories from fats. At a minimum, we should be getting at least 10% of our calories to come from fat.

There are two types of fats, saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats are good for us, while saturated fats are not. Vegetable oils are a type of unsaturated fat that helps lower both blood cholesterol levels and triglyceride level. Another type of unsaturated fat is omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for a healthy heart. Omega-3s are found in fatty fish like salmon, trout, catfish, and mackerel, as well as flaxseed and walnuts. Perhaps the most famous good fat is olive oil. Mediterranean countries use a lot of olive oil in their cuisine and this dietary component is credited with the low levels of heart disease in those countries.

The Heart Foundation suggests a few ways to work unsaturated fats into your diet:

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  • Avocado and nuts can be added to salads and a handful of unsalted nuts make a healthy snack anytime of the day. Try a handful of almonds sprinkled over breakfast cereal.
  • Tahini can be used as a spread on crackers instead of butter or used as a base for dips, sauces and stews
  • Choose margarine made from sunflower and safflower oils, and use instead of butter on sandwiches and toast
  • Sprinkle ground linseed on breakfast cereal or choose wholegrain bread with linseeds.
  • Add pine nuts or sesame seeds to salads or sprinkle over vegetables.

Here’s a list of unsaturated fats to pick up next time you go to the grocery store:

  • Oils (olive, canola, sunflower, peanut, sesame, soybean, corn, safflower)
  • Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews, pine, brazil, walnuts)
  • Seeds (sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, flaxseed)
  • Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Soymilk
  • Tofu

So remember: Fats are good for you and you need them. Just choose the healthy ones.

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