“Fat” is not a bad word when it comes to diet and nutrition.

By Marie Veselsky, RD, LD, CDE, BC-ADM

 

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Your body must have “fat” the healthy kind, for many processes and to maintain overall good health. Good fats are anti-inflammatory and most disease processes start with inflammation.

Good fats are a “functional food.” What are functional foods? Functional foods are foods that also provide some health benefit. Whatever was meant to sustain us or benefit us was put on this earth to begin with. So examples of functional foods would be herbs, spices, fresh fruits, vegetables and yes, “fats,” such as meats and plant based fats such as raw nuts, avocado and coconut.

Fat is a macronutrient necessary for many body functions such as maintaining healthy skin and hair and yes…even a healthy brain and heart. Unfortunately, “fat” has been made the villain for years by many health care professionals.

Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are found primarily in plant foods – nuts and nut butters, seeds, avocados and vegetable oils as well as fish. These fats are good for your heart; they lower LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (the good cholesterol). Diets high in Omega fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties that help ward off disease.

Even “saturated fat” has been unfairly vilified. Saturated fat which is found naturally in animal products is actually part of a healthy diet. It is when you over do the saturated fat that it becomes a problem. As a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), I feel that the epidemic of obesity and especially Diabetes Type 2, is actually linked to eating way too much carbohydrate (processed carb) and avoiding fats of all types. I can’t even count the number of times I have had clients say “I can’t eat nuts or eggs they are high in fat!” Some fat is a very important part of a diabetic diet to help control blood sugars as well as any weight loss diet. You actually need some fat “to stick to your ribs” to help slow down the absorption of glucose. This allows you to go longer without feeling hungry and thus you avoid overeating.

Trans-fat is truly the “bad” fat and has been linked to a higher risk of serious chronic illness. This fat increases LDL cholesterol which contributes to small-particle plaque formation in the arteries and results in occlusion that restricts blood flow to the heart, brain and other organs. Industrially produced trans fats found in processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (the hydrogenation process turns the oils from liquid to solid) is linked with abnormal cholesterol levels and a higher risk of heart disease and is considered the unhealthiest type of fat. A company can claim something is trans-fat free if it is less than a certain percentage per serving, but if it says the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in the ingredient list, it has trans-fats in it. There really is truly no safe intake of trans-fats.

Thus, when it comes to making a choice for fats to combine with your “healthy carbs” (fruits, vegetables) there is always a 1) worst 2) better 3) best. Worst would be trans-fats and should be avoided. Better would be saturated fat and should be used in moderation. BEST would be the good fats! Sources of healthy fat or good fats are: olive oil, nuts, avocado, fish (salmon, herring, and trout) walnuts, flaxseed (ground) and flaxseed oil.

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It’s Your Health and Your Choice! ™