For years, low-fat and fat-free diets were all the rage. Full-fat products were the enemy, we were led to believe, making us pile on the pounds and making us more susceptible to many diseases. Low-fat and fat-free foods were flying off the shelves as we were convinced they would bring us health and wellbeing – and keep those extra pounds at bay.
While it’s true consuming less fat will ultimately help to lower cholesterol and encourage weight loss, recent research proves some fats are actually good for us. In particular, essential omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats are necessary to sustain a healthy diet and healthy body. It may come as a surprise to many, but we actually need fat to lose weight, ward off disease and maintain a healthy immune system.
Rather than opt for low-fat or fat-free foods, we should include some eggs, butter, meat and full fat yogurt in our diets. How can these foods be better for us than low-fat products, you may ask? Because when food manufacturers remove fat from food, they have to replace it with something else to maintain flavour – and that something else is sugar.
When we consume sugar at a faster rate than our bodies can burn it off, this refined carbohydrate gets stored as fat – and that means weight gain rather than weight loss. Also, that extra sugar can wreak havoc with our energy levels and eating habits, making us feel tired and craving more food. The result is a vicious circle that can lead to excess weight and related health issues.
On the other hand, a diet that includes healthy fats, lean protein, green vegetables and whole grains can give your overall health a boost and help to control your weight. Why? These foods take longer to digest and therefore make us feel fuller for longer so we eat less.
However, we still need to be clear about the type of fat we are eating, and these days many food labels can be more confusing than helpful. It’s important to cut down on the unhealthy fats and be sure to include the healthy ones, so here’s a guide.
There are four types of fat: saturated fats, from animal fat and tropical oils; monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil; polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3; and trans fats, such as margarine.
We need to eat more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, a controlled amount of saturated fats – and avoid those health-damaging trans fats at all cost!
Extra virgin olive oil, which is made up of monounsaturated fats, has been linked with reduced cholesterol. It’s great for dipping bread, and drizzling on salads and steamed vegetables. Extra virgin olive oil should not be heated, and even olive oil should not be allowed to get too hot. Excess heat can make these oils rancid and toxic. Avocados are another source of healthy monounsaturated fats: they contain almost as much monounsaturated fat per gram as olive oil – up to 70 to 75%.
It’s easy to get enough polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fats which have anti-inflammatory properties: these healthy oils can be found in fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, as well as walnuts and flax seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids are also valuable ‘brain boosting foods,’ which can help to prevent attention deficit, depression and other mental disorders.
While the best advice is to minimize our consumption of saturated fats, we should not cut them out completely. In moderation, they are necessary to increase our absorption of calcium to build stronger bones, and to contribute to healthy lungs, heart, liver and immune system.
Lastly, we cannot emphasize this strongly enough: avoid all trans fats, those nasty elements found in everything from doughnuts, pastries, muffins and cookies to French fries, chips, margarine and shortening. Experts say consuming just one gram of trans fats a day can increase our chance of cardiovascular disease by 20% because they clog up our arteries.
The message is simple: eating the right amount of the right fat can prove beneficial to your heart health and brain function – and keep your healthy lifestyle on track!
Shawn M. Nisbet, RHN, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, Yoga Teacher & Nordic Pole Walking Master Instructor. 416.804.0938; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.shawnnisbet.com; www.shawnnisbet.canada.juiceplus.com.