Foods with fat have had a bad reputation for years. People fear that if they consume them, they'll gain weight. The truth behind this myth surrounding fat-containing foods is quite interesting and surprising. To help guide you, here's a bit on the history behind fat's bad rap, the different types of fat that exist, and the types of fat that are best for us to consume.
The History of Fat
In September 2016, the dirty laundry behind fat's bad reputation aired when five decades of the sugar industry's internal documents were published. These documents revealed that the Sugar Research Foundation, which is now known as the Sugar Association, paid Harvard scientists in the 1960s to publish deceiving findings about sugar, fat, and heart disease. The articles minimized the connections between sugar and heart disease, while placing most of the blame on saturated fat. This led to the no-fat and low-fat craze that allowed the sugar industry to pervade processed foods, as fat was almost always replaced by sugar to maintain flavor in these items. Fast-forward to today, and science has revealed the truth about dietary fat and its impact on our bodies.
The Role of Fat
Consuming fat is vital for your body to function properly. Some of the most important roles that fat plays within the body include sourcing energy, insulation, cell structure, vitamin absorption, hormone regulation, the assistance in gene expression, and immune function. The fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K actually cannot be absorbed by the body if they aren't consumed with a source of dietary fat.
Types of Fat
There are four main categories of fat found in food. Each has a different effect on our body—some good and some bad. Here's a closer look.
- Trans fat: Trans fat is the only fat that dietitians and other healthcare professionals will advise you to steer clear of. The majority of these fats are man-made through a process called hydrogenation. This process, which allows foods to have a longer shelf life and better mouthfeel, causes these fats to decrease your good cholesterol and increase your bad cholesterol. You'll only find these fats in processed, packaged foods.
- Saturated fat: As mentioned above, saturated fat has had an undeservedly bad reputation for years. It's been blamed for increasing your bad cholesterol and clogging your arteries, and only within the past couple of years has conflicting research regarding saturated fat come to the surface. The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published an article that reviewed previous studies that looked at links between fatty acid consumption and heart disease risk. After examining the findings, the review found that the current evidence available does not support the minimal consumption of saturated fats in cardiac patients. This is due to the fact that saturated fat is an umbrella term for the numerous saturated fatty acids in existence. Some of these fatty acids will raise your bad cholesterol while others will raise your good cholesterol. This is also due to the fact that people often replace saturated fat in their diet with processed carbohydrates, which actually increases their risk of heart disease. While it's not a good idea to go crazy with your classic saturated fats such as butter, whole-fat dairy, cheese, and animal fats, they can most certainly fit into a balanced diet in moderation.
- Unsaturated and polyunsaturated fat: These fats are the healthy and heart-healthy fats that health professionals talk about. They are proven to lower bad cholesterol and prevent heart disease, they play an important role in inflammation regulation, which is vital for immunity, and they're essential to a well-functioning brain because brain cells are rich in polyunsaturated fats. Many people don't include enough of these fats in their diets.
Sources of Healthy Fats
Here are some of the best sources of unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats:
- Olive, canola, sesame, sunflower, peanut, soybean, linseed, coconut, and flaxseed oil
- Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel
- Nuts (particularly walnuts, pecans, and Brazil nuts)
- Seeds (particularly sunflower, flax, and chia seeds)
So based on the latest research-based information on the fats found in food, you should feel comfortable and confident about including healthy fats within your diet. By making simple changes like cooking with heart-healthy oils and adding more nuts, seeds, fish, and avocado into your dishes, you'll be on your way to reaping the benefits that foods with fat can have on your health.