Essentially Speaking

Contrary to popular belief, fat is an essential part of our diet. True, too much fat or too much of certain types of fat, can be harmful to our bodies and overall health. However, no-fat diets can also be harmful to us.

Fats we should avoid include foods high in trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol-laden meal items.

  • Trans fat occurs when liquid oils go through a process called hydrogenation. Hydrogenation is used to change liquid oils into solid fats. When ingested, trans fats can increase our risk of cardiovascular problems and disease. Key words to look for on food labels include: trans fat (listed as an ingredient), hydrogenated oils, partially-hydrogenated oils. If you see this on a label, it’s best to avoid eating it.
  • Did you know that cholesterol is naturally created  by our bodies? It’s true! Our body already has all the cholesterol it needs. So when we consume foods high in cholesterol, we could harm our health by increasing the amount of cholesterol floating in our blood. This could lead to major heart problems, including blockages, heart attacks, or hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis). A crucial fact to remember is that cholesterol is only found in animal products. Animal flesh, animal organ meat, dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, egg yolks), and animal fats used for cooking (such as lard — also probably trans fat!) all contain cholesterol. Organ meat is especially high in cholesterol, and is also full of other toxins are probably best not to be introduced into our bodies.
  • Saturated fat increases the amount of cholesterol found in our blood. As I mentioned above, too much cholesterol floating in our blood can cause major problems. So a diet high in saturated fats that also have high amounts of cholesterol is probably not the best option for a healthy body. Saturated fat is also a leading contributor to obesity, which leads to many other problems in itself.

Polar bears need fat for warmth and for fuel when food is scarce.

Conversely, our bodies DO need fat! Just not too much of the bad guys listed above. Healthy fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can be found in the following foods:

  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, halibut. The American Heart Association recommends eating 4 oz of fatty fish twice per week.
  • Walnuts, a great vegan option. Walnuts are on of the riches sources of essential fatty acids. Walnuts also inhibit intestinal absorption of cholesterol! (And they are delicious.)
  • Flax seeds or flax seed oil.
Other reasons our bodies need fat:
  • To provide our bodies with energy when at rest or during light activity.
  • For storing energy for later use.
  • Insulating and protecting the body.
  • Transporting vitamins that travel to our intestines for absorption in fat.
Some healthy sources of fat include fatty fish (as I mentioned), nuts and seeds, nut butters, avocados, 2-4 tsp per day of plant oils, and some whole grain foods. 
What’s the lesson here? Fat is essential! Don’t go too crazy when you eat it, but following super-low-fat or no-fat fad diets can do more harm than good. So don’t feel guilty when you eat your guacamole. Just remember to hold back on the fried tortilla chips.
Some content taken from Contemporary Nutrition, published by McGraw-Hill.


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