It wasn’t so long ago that low-fat diets were all the rage. “Fat free!” labels popped up everywhere, convincing the general public that fats were, indeed, the enemy. Now nutritionists seem to be leaning in a different direction, and those evil fats have been re-branded “healthy fats.” Kerry Bajaj, a certified Be Well Health Coach at Eleven Eleven Wellness Center, went over the history of this controversial food group, and why it’s now considered en vogue.
“It started in the late ’80s when saturated fat was identified as unhealthy and linked with heart disease,” says Bajaj. “The problem is not all fats are bad for you, but the message got dumbed down and oversimplified for the general public. The next problem: Food manufacturers replaced fats with sugars in processed foods. (Remember Snackwells cookies?) And now we know that this fat-free crusade was misguided. Sugar and refined carbs are what really makes you fat. Farmers have known this for hundreds of years—if you want to make your livestock gain weight quickly, you feed them lots of grains.”
But since all fats aren’t created equal, Bajaj lists the ones that are good for you. “Salmon, sardines, flax seeds, nuts, nut butters, grass-fed beef, eggs from pastured chickens and avocados are sources of healthy fats. Also healthy oils like coconut oil, MCT oil, olive oil, ghee or grass-fed butter are good choices. These are good sources of healthy fats because they have undergone little processing. It’s important to avoid highly refined, processed seed oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil and canola oil, which are produced through chemical processes using harsh chemicals such as hexane. Avoiding these oils is yet another reason to minimize or eliminate packaged foods. You should absolutely avoid trans fats at all costs.”
If you’re worried about consuming too many fats, Bajaj says, “I find that patients are way too cautious and afraid of embracing fats, but in the meantime they are consuming tons of sugar in the form of fruit, fruit juice, sweets and alcohol, with disastrous consequences. I recommend filling your plate with lots of vegetables, protein and including healthy fats at every meal.
And why are fats so necessary? “Fats play a crucial role in the human body—as building blocks of our cell membranes, precursors to our hormonal system, and essential for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K. Additionally, fats provide long-burning energy, modulating the entry of glucose into our cells, so we don’t need to eat as frequently. Fats give us a feeling of satiety, and we are less likely to reach for a sugary treat when we incorporate healthy fats into our diet.”
Lesson learned? Bring on the avocados and almond butter!