The skinny on fats...
Somehow, fat has become a fad.
There are two common extremes most often portrayed... fat as the demon and fat as the savior.
There's the old school diet, which urges you to cut fat out wherever possible to reduce calories and subsequently weight, while the more novel "keto" movement encourages you to consume most of your daily calories from fat so your body will begin to utilize it as its main energy source. Depending on which social media influencer you are following, they will swear that one of these methods helped them lose weight and develop a rock hard supermodel body (complete with 'too good to be true' photos of their transformation). If you asked a registered dietitian, we'd say neither is healthy (both can have long term negative effects) and neither one works (these are not sustainable diets)... and there's real science to back this up!
Here's the reality... fat is essential for our body's processes. It supports nerve function, makes up our cell structure, promotes cardiovascular health and has even been linked to mental health and inflammation. It's also essential for absorption of important vitamins such as Vitamins A, D, E and K. We need it in moderation (20-35% of our daily calories) and too much or too little can definitely have negative effects. However, not all fats are equal so here are my tips on how to incorporate healthy fats into a balanced diet:
Focus on plant-based oils, for cooking, baking, etc. Olive, avocado and safflower oils are all good choices for sautéing, seasoning and marinating as they are high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can lower "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and raise "good" cholesterol (HDL). Try to choose oils that stay liquid at room temperature (this indicates they are low in saturated fat). Limit the use of dairy and coconut butter (solid at room temperature), as these are high in saturated fat - a contributor to cardiovascular disease and high cholesterol.
Incorporate more omega-3 fatty acids from foods like... cold water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout), nuts & seeds (flax, chia, walnuts), and plant oils (canola oil, soybean oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil). Many of these are easy to add to salads, smoothies or cereals and utilize in cooking/seasoning of main or side dishes. Omega-3 can lower the risk of heart disease, help control inflammation and promote brain health, among other things!
"Sprinkle" fat into your diet. Add a splash of dressing or oil to a dish, snack on a handful of nuts or seeds or add a slice of avocado to whole grain toast or a sandwich. Think of fat as the supporting actor, not the lead role in your diet.
It's easier to incorporate healthy fats into a diet based on whole foods. Processed, ready-to-eat and prepared takeout foods tend to be higher in saturated fat for taste and shelf stability (even ones from higher end grocery chains). Be a savvy label reader by checking the amount of saturated fat in a food item (aim for 10% or less of total daily calories) and prepare foods from scratch as much as possible to ensure healthy fats are used.
Remember, the key to a healthy diet is balance. Avocado is good. Cookies are good. Every food is good when we enjoy it in moderation and we should never think it's okay to completely limit ourselves from certain foods or food groups (unless medically necessary). If we can adopt the habit of making healthier food choices most of the time, we can promote both our physical health and our mental well-being.