The Big FAT Truth

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I hope you learned a lot in my prior post all about carbs and why you shouldn’t fear them. As we continue my National Nutrition Month celebration of nutrients, today we’re talking about fat. You know, that nutrient we all ran screaming into the night from back in the 80s & 90s.  Today I’ll be setting the record straight all about fat. Get ready to settle on in to read all about the big FAT truth.

WHAT EXACTLY IS FAT?

Fat plays an important role in the human body.It helps make up cell structure, provides protection for the body and its organs, and, as I explained in my prior post, also is a stored form of energy. Certain fats even have anti-inflammatory properties and help your body respond to stimuli.

Fat is a stored form of energy in the body, and due the nature of human survival, it is meant to stay that way. That means we will never NOT have fat within our bodies. Fat is a last resort for energy production. As a result, fat is not always accessible as an energy source, because the body prefers carbs for energy (way easier to use for energy).This makes it difficult for fat to be used as energy, unless specific circumstances are in place, forcing fat to be used instead.

Fat provides 9 calories of energy per gram from any source, compared to 4 calories from carbs and protein. That means it’s a very rich source of energy. And in turn, your body wants to save that energy for when it really needs it. Think about it – how likely are you to give someone $1 vs $100? Your fat stores are equal to that $100 bill. Worth a lot, but difficult to part ways with it.

One point that was addressed in my carb post was that fat can help slow down how quickly our body breaks down and absorbs sugar. Consuming a fat with carb foods decreases the rate of absorption,which can and help control blood sugar and even weight management. This is why it’s important to get a variety of nutrients at ALL our meals.

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ARE YOR A “GOOD” FAT OR A “BAD FAT”?

Fat in our diets can come from various sources. Both plant and animal foods contain fat.

There are several types of fat to be aware of, and not all “fats” are created equal. Some are recommended to have more than others. Saturated fat is considered a “bad” fat. Saturated fat is found in animal products such as any beef product, chicken skin, full or reduced fat dairy products, butter, lard, and cheese. It is also found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, fried and baked foods. A good way to remember is that “saturated” starts with “S” and so does the word “solid”. Saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature.

The reason these are newsworthy is because saturated fats can increase cholesterol levels, which increases one’s risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats can help reduce risk and improve blood cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) are liquid at room temperature. They can be found in olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil and sesame oil, as well as avocado, olives, and many nuts and seeds. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are also liquid at room temperature and can be found in soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil and in some nuts and seeds like walnuts, sunflower seeds, tofu and soybeans.Nut and seed butters are also an excellent source of healthy fats. PUFA contain omega-6 and omega-3 fats which are fats that must be obtained through diet. Get your anti-inflammatoryomega-3’s from tofu and other forms of soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, fatty fish, such as salmon, and their oils.

Both MUFA and PUFA can help reduce LDL (aka“bad cholesterol”) levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressureand stroke. They also provide nutrients such as the antioxidant vitamin E. It is important to note that most plant oils contain both MUFA and PUFA, just in different ratios.You will get a mix of each when choosing cooking oils and salad dressings.

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FAT DOESN’T MAKE US FAT

If you still believe fat in food is what causes us to become fat, then it’s time to get in your time machine and join us in 2018. In the 80s&90s, there was fear that eating fat caused weight gain, which led to a Fat-Free Food Phenomenon. Raise your hand if at one point Snackwells became a staple in your home pantry. Companies started creating without fat and “fat-free” labels that were a hit with consumers looking to stay slim. However, fat is what makes food tasty by adding flavor, so to make these products taste good, sugar, salt and other questionable ingredients were added to improve taste. These fat-free products were more harmful than helpful to health and contributes to overconsumption of high calorie foods that lack nutrients.

This movement toward fat-free foods, grew from the idea that fat causes weight gain, but fat alone does not cause weight gain. Overconsumption of calories overall and limited movement causes weight gain. Whether those calories come from fat, protein, or carbs, too much of any of these nutrients can lead to weight gain.

Remember that eating fat-rich foods can be part of a balanced diet. In fact, it is highly encouraged. Eating qualityunsaturated fatssuch as olive oil, avocado (whole or oil form), nuts, nut butters, seeds, fatty fish like salmon, among many others, are great options for fitting fat into a balanced diet. When consuming fat, as with any other nutrient, it is important to follow serving sizes to avoid overconsumption. Try to focus on fats that are present in whole foods rather than processed foods to feel more full for longer.

As you can see, there is no reason to fear the fat. As with all my posts this month, a little education goes a long way when it comes to leading a healthy lifestyle in your home with your Significant Other. Start incorporating those healthy fats into your meals, phase out or limit the saturated fats, and ditch the “fat free” processed foods in your pantry. Get a mix of ALL nutrients at meals to balance everything and give your body time to utilize those nutrients appropriately. And THAT’s the big FAT truth.

This post was co-authored by Kristen Matthews, a senior dietetics student at Montclair State University. Kristen is a Student Liaison for the the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, is student representative for the NJ Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and is on the Executive Board of Montclair State Dietetics Organization.

DO YOU STILL FEAR FAT IN FOODS?

ARE YOU AVOIDING HEALTHY FATS FOR FEAR THEY WILL CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN?

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