Thank goodness we’ve come a long way from our SnackWell’s days. I might be showing my age, but growing up in the 90’s was all about acid-wash jeans, scrunchies, and of course low-fat food. Things like SnackWell’s devil’s food low-fat cookies were promoted as a “healthy” snack food.
Our fashions might have changed, but what stuck from this low-fat era was a serious misconception and fear of fat. We were made to believe that “fat will make you fat” and with that, we saw a shift to choosing low-fat and non-fat foods that were supposed to be “better” for us.
What we now know is that the massive shift to avoid fats did not end up making us healthier. When the fat was taken out of food it had to be replaced with something else. That “something else” became sugar and other processed substitutes that most of us still can’t pronounce.
What does sugar do to your body? It causes widespread inflammation which drives just about every major chronic disease. Over the last few decades we’ve seen dramatic increases in conditions such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
I know fats have been vilified over the years. Fat however is a type of macronutrient, just like protein and carbohydrates. Fat happens to be the most energy-dense macronutrient. What I drive home to my clients is that not all fats are created equal…hence, not all fats are bad! I promise.
Healthy fats are needed for nutrient absorption, as well as for the health of your brain, heart, and skin. Healthy fats help your body to produce and balance hormones, and even aid in weight loss.
What healthy fats should you add to your grocery list? Here are a few:
Avocado Flax & Chia Seeds
Pasteurized Eggs Nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
Full Fat Dairy Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, & Avocado Oil
(whole milk, yogurt & cheese) Ghee
Grass-Fed Butter Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa or >)
Grass-Fed Beef Olives
Wild Caught Salmon
In contrast to healthy fats, the worst type of dietary fats are: Trans fats. They have no known health benefits and have not been found to be safe, even consumed in minimal amounts.
In addition to trans fats, here are other unhealthy fats and oils to avoid:
1. Vegetable and seed oils. These oils are highly processed and prone to being genetically modified. Most have a high Omega 6 profile, which is a known cause of major inflammation in our body. Examples include canola, corn, soybean, safflower, peanut, palm, and cottonseed oil.
2. Anything hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. This would include something like vegetable shortening or margarine. They are made through a chemical process, which usually turns them into trans fats. They increase your bad cholesterol and decrease your good cholesterol promoting inflammation and increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
If you’re asking yourself, “What should I cook with?” There are some great, healthier alternatives available such as organic extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil. With a high smoke point, they can be used in a variety of ways from cooking and drizzled on salads to a fresh marinade for fish, lean meats and more.
I advise my clients to eat plenty of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both have been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk factors by lowering LDL, which is the “bad” cholesterol. There has been much controversy surrounding saturated fats, which are found primarily in animal products and some plant-based foods. The good news is: newer research shows us that there is no major correlation between consuming saturated fats and an increased risk of heart disease.
Fat is one of the three essential macronutrients the body needs, along with protein and carbohydrates. Although fat has gotten a bad rap over the years, research has since shown that dietary fat has many health benefits and does not pose the major cardiovascular risk factor we once thought. Adding a healthy fat to each meal can help to support weight loss as it’s known to stabilize blood sugar and keep you satiated.
The bottom line? Dietary fats can help reduce inflammation, increase satiety, and support other aspects of your overall health.
Meghan Punda, CRNP is a Nurse Practitioner and Functional Nutritionist with a focus on women’s health. She works with women on lifestyle and dietary issues. Meghan is passionate about educating her clients so they can reach their full wellness potential.
All About Fats: Why You Need Them in Your Diet. Health.clevelandclinic.org June 4, 2019.
What Are Healthy Fats? Foods to Include in Your Diet. Fullscript.com. March 17, 2021.
9 High-Fat Foods That Offer Great Health Benefits by Kris Gunnars, BSc and SaVanna Shoemaker, MSRDN, LD – reviewed by Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, Healthline.com, September 29, 2021.