I’m excited to share another post with you from Melissa Moser, the Claire Tastes Registered Dietitian! Melissa has posted before about gluten-free diets, and now she tackles the topic of fat. What’s the science behind it? Does it make a difference where your fat comes from? Is fat good for you? Read on to discover some things you didn’t know about one of the most controversial topics in nutrition! You can also learn more about Melissa on my Nutrition Page.
FACING THE FACTS ABOUT FAT
If you’re scared of fat, you’re not alone. We’re scared to talk about fat because it’s a complicated topic. We’re scared to eat fat because we think it’ll wreak havoc on our health. Most of all, we’re scared of getting fat! I’m here to help you face the facts – the good and the bad – to restore a healthy relationship with fat! The next time you hear the words “polyunsaturated fats” you’ll be able to jump in the conversation and help others understand the nutritional science of fat!
Fact #1: Fat on your body is not the same as fat in your food. Your body stores excess calories as fat. Whether those excess calories are in the form of carbs, fat, protein, or alcohol, if you’re consuming more calories than your body needs, your body will store these extra calories as fat. That means that even on a completely fat-free diet you can gain weight and store more fat on your body if you’re eating too many calories. A higher fat diet does not necessarily equate to a higher fat person.
Fact #2: Everyone needs fat. The body is unable to absorb, transport, and store certain vitamins (A, D, E, and K) without fat. Fat is important for building cell membranes, and it’s a major component of nerve cells. A lack of dietary fat can impair hormone production and signaling between cells. A small amount of fat is essential!
Fact #3: Not all fats are created equal. In general, research has shown that saturated fat and trans fat have negative effects on our cholesterol levels, putting us at higher risk for heart disease. The good news is that replacing these fats with polyunsaturated fats can actually improve cholesterol levels! In an attempt to simplify the research, public health messages that came out in the 1980’s advised us to limit total fat. Rather than defining the types of fats (or the foods in which they are commonly found), public health agencies advised we cut down on fat altogether. And so the low-fat craze was born!
Fact #4: Just because a food is low in fat doesn’t mean it’s healthy. When the low-fat message came out, food manufacturers began making new, fat-free junk like SnackWell’s cookies. To make these fat-free cookies taste as good as regular cookies, manufacturers added extra sugar and chemicals to mimic the taste and feel of the original. If you compare the nutrition facts, you’ll find that one SnackWell’s Devil’s Food Cookie has roughly the same amount of calories and about 3g more sugar than an Oreo Cookie.
Here’s my bottom line: Fat is necessary, but the type and quantity you consume matter. Fat is the most calorie-dense nutrient, so it only takes a small amount of fat to add up to a lot of calories. When snacking on high-fat foods like nuts, measure out your serving size before you start eating so you don’t go overboard. Reduce saturated fat by limiting full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, butter, grain-based desserts, and deep-fried foods. Stay away from trans fats, which can be identified in the ingredients list as “hydrogenated” oils. Replace these with heart-healthy polyunsaturated fats found in fatty fish like salmon and trout, or healthy oils like soybean, corn, and sunflower.