This piece was written for Darling magazine. See the version published on their site HERE.
It’s Fat Tuesday, and while fat days generally get a bad rap; this one is all about celebrating! The same goes for dietary fats… Vilified for years, we’ve finally come to realize that fat is not something to fear, but rather something to eat on the regular. In studies comparing a low fat diet to diets like Paleo, vegan and Mediterranean – the low fat diet always loses. The trick is in eating “the right kind”… and “the right amount”. The problem is that the guidelines seem to change as often as seasonal runway trends.
To help decipher some of the confusion out there, I’ve mapped out some of the basics of fat and how to appreciate, not abuse one of nature’s yummiest gifts!
WHY FAT ROCKS
The kind of fat that ends up on your body is the result of excess calories that are then converted to tissue. It’s not the same, nor is it directly related to the kind you put in your mouth.
Certain vitamins, namely A, D, E and K, are fat soluble – meaning that your body won’t properly absorb them without the help of some fat.
Fat gives you energy and supports healthy organ function, including skin – so it actually makes you look as good as you feel.
WHY THIS IS NEWS
The wage against fat began in the late 70’s in response to a sudden rise in cardiovascular and heart disease in the US. Unfortunately, the studies done to support these claims (and the entire basis of the food pyramid) were never done on humans. Yup, you read that right. This was called the “diet-heart hypothesis” and was based on observational data and animal studies.
WHAT KIND TO EAT
Both mono and polyunsaturated fats are shown to lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular and heart disease.
Omega 3 fatty acids are one type of polyunsaturated fat that are superheroes that also prevent and lessen symptoms of depression, asthma, ADHD, Alzheimer’s and dementia. They’re crucial for infant development and reduce memory loss and other symptoms of aging…so basically, you should eat them your whole life!
WHAT KIND NOT TO EAT
Even saturated fats have awesome health benefits when used in moderation. While it’s true that they can raise your “bad cholesterol” or LDL, they can also raise your “good cholesterol” or ADL, effectively negating the effects of the bad.
It’s important to consider the source of the fat, as well as the type. While both butter and coconut oil are saturated fat, the process of raising and harvesting cows to make butter is often riddled with hormones and GMO feed, along with unsanitary conditions and animal cruelty. That being said, if you trust the provider – the difference between butter and coconut oil is actually pretty negligible.
Trans fats naturally occur in small traces in some meat and dairy, and those are fine. The scary kind, are artificial trans fats found in fried food, and packaged, processed foods. These can seriously mess up your cholesterol, leading to everyone’s original fear from back in the 70’s when this all started…heart and cardiovascular disease.
HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE
Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature, while unsaturated fats are typically liquid. Trans fats are usually partially hydrogenated oils like the kind in a deep fryer. Otherwise you’ll rarely see them isolated the way that you would see a stick of butter. However, they lurk in many packaged foods because they prolong the shelf life more than a natural fat would.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Every natural food source is healthy for you in some way, but the key is balance. Even kale can be bad for you if you eat too much. So rather than jumping on the next diet claiming to have isolated the culprit for all of mankind’s health problems, maintaining an equilibrium of natural foods is a solution so simple, it’s smart.