You Need Some Fat

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Not All Fat Is Bad

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Chefs have a different view of fat than dietitians in general. In culinary classes, students learn how butter adds richness and flavor. Desserts beg for various creams. Butchers serve mouth-watering tender steaks with sufficient marbling. Ground lean meats benefit from the addition of complimentary fat. The main two ingredients in salad dressing are acid (vinegar; lemon juice) and fat (olive, safflower, sesame oils).

Not just for flavor, your body needs dietary fat. According to the American Heart Association, ‘dietary fats give your body energy and support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats allows your body to absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too.’ It is important to recognize that there are four main dietary fats:

The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat (butter, cream, cheese, meats). Mono­unsaturated fats are plant-based oils like olive, safflower, and sesame. Poly­unsaturated fats like soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke.

High-protein meal
This high-protein meal includes several saturated fats. Limit the amount you consume.

The digestive systems of some animals produce naturally-occurring trans fats. An industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils makes them more solid. This produces artificial trans fats (or trans fatty acids). Look for the words “partially hydrogenated oils” on processed food labeling. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

Here are some considerations to the butter-versus-margarine debate: Pros: Margarine is much lower in saturated fat than butter, and it is made from vegetable oils, so it contains unsaturated “good” fats—polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and no cholesterol. Cons: Although it is lower in saturated fat, stick margarine still contains about the same amount of total fat and calories as butter.

Eating Enough Good Fat

We should limit some fats while eliminating artificial trans fats entirely. Natural fats, in moderation, are essential to good heath. People who either have a gallbladder that is malfunctioning or is no longer present cannot process fats well. The liver tries its best to substitute for the function of the deficient organ. Too much fat is rejected—sent back up from where it came.

In a health maintenance class moderated by a nutritionist, one member bemoaned the occasional craving for rich forbidden food post chole­cystectomy. This is when things got weird. The nutritionist probed about deep-seated childhood issues of trying to please her father as the root cause of such cravings. Interjecting an alternative rationale, I asked, “Don’t our bodies require a measure of fat?” After receiving an affirmative response from the nutritionist, I posed a rhetorical question: “Is it then, natural to crave fat periodically (with no relation to the psychological issues)?”

A main problem with many diets is their extreme abstinence from something—often fat. Our bodies need a good balance. In fact, the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are:

  • Carbohydrates: 45–65% of calories
  • Fat: 25–35% of calories
  • Protein: 10–30% of calories

Carbohydrates should be as complex (natural and fibrous) as possible. Think celery as opposed to potato chips. Instead of extreme fat avoidance, it is wise to practice more responsible fat consumption. Read labels and choose proper fats for good health. Even while consuming good fats, stay fit with regular exercise. If your gallbladder has been removed (cholecys­tectomy) or you are lactate intolerant, speak to a registered dietitian about an individual action plan.

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Kevin Williams is a health advocate and writer of hundreds of articles for multiple web­sites, including: A Bit More Healthy, KevinMD (WebMD), and Sue’s Nutrition Buzz. He is a prior 15-year con­sul­tant for Neutrogena Research and Scientific Affairs.

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