I’ve been asked to share a little more about healthy fats. So I shall. Fats are wonderful things. They are critical for brain development, hormone production, nerve impulse transmission, memory storage, and are a key in the structure of our cell membranes. They are also handy for energy storage (which is a feature some of us wish our bodies didn’t have) and keeping us warm. And best of all? They make food taste GOOD. We need fats. It is a real shame the whole low-fat diet craze did such a disservice by scaring the general public away from healthy fats and into the arms of artificial sugars, low-fat processed foods, and George Foreman grills. Bleh. I will say though, I was a low-fat diet guru in my earlier years. I could tell you how many calories was in a serving of Snackwells, where to buy the best veggie burgers, and extol the virtues of fat-free cereal as the perfect snack. Looking back, this was terribly unhealthy. The only reason I didn’t feel like utter crap was because I was young. You can get away with a lot when you are young and naive. I remember once in college I subsisted for an entire day on nothing but jube-jubes (those wonderful jelly candies you can only get in Canada. They make nothing quite as delectable here.). Seriously, I did. I’m almost ashamed to admit it. But no fat, right? But no nutrients either!! How did I survive? Apparently my high school education failed in instilling some basic knowledge of macro and micro nutrients.
So that was me 10+ years ago. I have wised up since then. I make sure to have generous amounts of healthy fats in my diet daily. I suppose the real problem is that so many fats have been villified that one is no longer sure what constitutes a healthy fat and what does not. Here is where I can help break it down for you: everything in moderation. The only caveat to this is trans-fats, which you should never eat. NEVER.* So yes, everything in moderation. Even saturated fats you say? Yes, even saturated fats. I’m not convinced saturated fats coming from natural, non-processed sources are really as bad as they are made out to be. Many of our ancestors lived on large amounts of saturated fats from meat and dairy yet did not have the rampant heart disease we have now. What’s different? I think the answer is SAD – the Standard American Diet. High-fat, high-processed food diets, low intake of plant matter + low physical activity = poor health. I think it’s that simple. Or not simple I suppose. Our society is not set up to make eating well easy. How did a jube jube end up in a poor, naive college girl’s dorm room in the first place? Why didn’t someone intervene? Because they didn’t know any better either! So our friends can’t help us, the stores, filled with misleading claims and false advertising, certainly won’t help us, and our government which makes food rules for us not based on science but on how much money the lobbies are willing to give them unfortunately provides little help as well. This all sounds so hopeless, doesn’t it?
This is why I am so passionate about what I do. There is hope. And as most of you already know, things are getting better. People are becoming more aware. Our government is paying more attention now that heart disease and gastric-bypass surgeries are continually on the rise. And more and more health professionals are promoting normal, plain, regular FOOD instead of things out of boxes, bags and cartons.
But enough ranting about SAD. Back to healthy fats. So some saturated fat is ok, but do keep portions small and get it from natural sources like organic meats, dairy and coconut milk. Don’t get it from baked goods or processed foods. Most of us do need to decrease our saturated fats though for sure, and so when you do, replace them with healthy fats and not carbs. As I touched on last week, your risk for heart disease does not decrease if you replace fat with carbohydrates. In fact, I literally just read an abstract in The Journal of Nutrition online stating that the LDL/HDL ratio (aka bad/good cholesterol) improves when replacing saturated fats with healthy fats. Replacing them with carbs produced no change in this particular study.
So I guess here is the most interesting part of my long-winded post. What fats should we replace them with then? Why, mono and poly-unsaturated of course! I think I/we forget that most people have no idea what these words mean, and yet they are supposed to go find these fats and eat them. Right. Clearly it’s not happening. And when it is, people are not giving these delicate and somewhat unstable fats the love and care they deserve. Did you know these fats are highly prone to rancidity and can do more damage than good when stored and prepared improperly? Especially oils. You must be extremely careful with oils. Because they are not fully saturated, they are less stable and more prone to rancidity and oxidation. In fact, I would recommend one avoid cooking with polyunsaturated oils because the heat can break them down, which frankly makes them angry. You don’t want angry unsaturated fats in your bloodstream, do you? So here is a few lists of examples of some “healthy” fat foods:
Avocado, olives, nuts/seeds, flaxseed, soybeans, nut butters, sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna, olive oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, canola oil…..
This list is not exhaustive but covers a wide range of foods. Also note that I lumped them all together because most of these fats are a combination of mono- and polyunsaturated, so it is sometimes hard to classify them as one or the other. So that’s that. I think I am done now. Questions? A lightly salted avocado is sounding mighty good right now.
*Except for those naturally occurring in meat and dairy. I’m just talking about the crap in processed foods.