How many times have you heard the expression “fat makes you fat?” Years ago nutrition professionals thought this to be true, but recently the research has changed (as often happens in the nutrition world) to prove otherwise. Nevertheless, the public perception still has not changed so let’s set the record straight. Fat is not fattening unless you eat too much of it.
The simple fact is everyone needs fat in their diet. These fats are necessary to maintain hair, skin, bones, and metabolism, and they also provide a wide range of nutrients and health benefits. Adding some fat to foods can keep you feeling full longer, which may actually prevent overeating and control your weight. Don’t add just any fat though, because some fats are known to provide health benefits while others are detrimental to your health. It can get confusing, so here is the bottom line.
Trans fats are often considered a great evil in the world of nutrition. They have been shown to increase cholesterol levels and are no longer considered to be safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Trans fat is found in a many types of packaged foods including baked goods, frozen dinners, and chips. Although these foods are tempting treats for a late night study session, it’s best not to eat them too often.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, are currently under a great debate among nutrition experts. Scientific evidence has revealed mixed results as to whether they are helpful or harmful. For example, coconut oil is high in saturated fat, but research suggests that they may have the ability to prevent or treat certain chronic diseases. However, saturated fats are found in many of the same foods that are likely to contain trans fat, so the American Heart Association still
recommends limiting them. Clearly more research is needed.
The “good” fats include unsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and essential fatty acids. Omega-3’s and omega-6’s are essential fatty acids that have been getting quite a lot of attention for the past several years. There is increasing evidence that shows that these fats reduce the risk for cardiovascular disease and possibly type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and depression. Because there is still some debate over whether these fatty acids compete against each other in the body, omega-3 fatty acids are thought to be more beneficial. Add vegetable oils (soybean, canola, and flaxseed), walnuts, fatty fish (salmon, halibut, herring, or fresh tuna), and dark leafy vegetables (Brussels sprouts, kale, and spinach) to your diet in order to get your omega-3s.
Follow these tips to add healthy fats into your diet:
- Cook with liquid fats, such as canola or olive oil, rather than with solid fats. These can add a light, pleasant taste to almost any meal.
- Strive to eat at least 2 servings of fatty fish per week.
- Load up on dark green vegetables.
- Keep nuts, seeds, and hummus with vegetables on hand for an easy-to-grab snack on your way to class or work.
- Check labels in restaurants or the grocery store for saturated fats and trans fats. Also look for “hydrogenated oils” (a secret way of saying trans fat) in the ingredients list.
- Focus on your choice of foods, rather than the amount of fat, and choose whole, unprocessed foods more often.
Sydney Richards is a senior dietetics major at the University of Maryland, College Park. After graduation she will begin her dietetic internship at Penn State and hopes to become a corporate wellness dietitian. She loves cooking, traveling, sushi, and teacup pigs.