Fats have received a bad rap for some time now and with all the different types out there, it’s hard to distinguish which fats are good and which are bad. Many of us grew up with relatively fat-heavy meals: eating carne asada, buttery arepas, or papas a la huancaína were NBD. This lifestyle was said to lead to heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and other health conditions that could be prevented if our diets had improved. However, a recent study may have proven that some of these fats aren’t as bad as we think.
Researchers at McMaster University found that it’s trans fats — not saturated fats — that should be avoided in our diets. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as baked goods, coffee creamer, margarine, packaged snacks, and fried foods. Meanwhile, saturated fats are naturally found in eggs, butter, cows milk, cheese, salmon, and meat. During the study, it was found that consumption of saturated fats did not put people at risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or a stroke. Instead, trans fats were the ones that upped the mortality risk by 34 percent. Although it was unclear if trans fats increased the chances of type 2 diabetes or stroke, researchers do advise that people remain cautious when eating them.
As with any foods, moderation is key, but if you do choose to eat fatty foods, Gina Consalvo, a registered dietitian and owner of Eat Well With Gina Nutrition Counseling and Consulting, says to stick with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are found in nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, and raise your HDL (“Good”) cholesterol levels while lowering your risk of heart disease. Other healthy fats to add to your diet are Omega-3 fatty acids, which are typically found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, and anchovies. But if you don’t eat fish, you can easily find them in kale, spinach, leeks, broccoli, nuts, tofu, wheat germ, soy, and flaxseed oils. Consalvo explains the benefits of a diet in omega-3’s and says, ”Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help to prevent and reduce the symptoms of depression, protect against memory loss and dementia, reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, ease arthritis, joint pain, inflammatory skin conditions, and supports a healthy pregnancy.”
But did you know there are many other good reasons to make fats a staple of your diet? We're breaking down some popular myths and discussing why you should consume more healthy fats.
Myth 1: Consuming fats should be kept to a minimum.
Consalvo says a common misconception about fats is that they should be kept to a minimum. In actuality, 20 to 35 percent of our calories should be coming from fats. She explains, “Insufficient fat intake may result in skin abnormalities, kidney and liver disorders, fatigue, poor mental function, skin problems, poor wound healing, and vitamin and mineral deficiencies related to inadequate absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.” As a result it’s best to eat healthy unsaturated fats and keep saturated fats to 10 percent of our daily calorie intake.
Myth 2: Fats are bad for your organs.
It’s believed that fats can be bad for our organs, but they are actually necessary for all of them to function efficiently together. Not only does fats provide energy and keep us warm, but they serve as a vehicle to help transfer vitamins A, D, E, and K throughout the body. Consalvo adds, ”Fats also helps your body produce hormones, lubricate body tissues and skin to slow loss of body water, and provide insulation to help transmit nerve impulses.”
Myth 3: Fats make you gain weight.
As with any food group, if too much is consumed it can lead to weight gain. But simply consuming fats will not make your waistline expand. Instead, it may have the opposite effect if you choose — you guessed it: the right ones. Fats can help with weight loss because it takes the body a longer time to burn compared to carbs and can keep you satiated for a long time. Consalvo says, “Healthy fats can help you lose fat by improving metabolism, balancing hormones, curbing hunger and eliminating or reducing cravings.”
Myth 4: Fats can make you feel sluggish.
Sure, if you eat those cookies or chips containing the bad trans fats, they may make you feel exhausted and drained. That’s because they take longer to digest and make it harder for your body to break down — if at all. Healthy fats have the opposite effect and offer great benefits for your well-being. According to Consalvo, they can help with weight management, better brain function and an improved mood.
Myth 5: Low-fat foods are better for you.
You’ve probably seen all the diet foods in the supermarket labeled “low fat,” “fat-free,” or “trans-fat free” and thought they were the easy way to eat healthy. The problem is, a lot of these processed foods may have more calories and the fats are replaced with sugar and other artificial additives. Instead, Consalvo advises sticking with fresh foods as opposed to giving into the gimmicky labels. “It's best just to eat the food in it's natural form even if it may be a little higher in calories or fat compared to a more processed alternative filled with artificial, chemically altered ingredients that your body doesn't know how to process as efficiently.”