For many decades we have heard that fats are bad for us, and as such should be avoided at all costs. This line of thinking gave us ‘food’ products like Snackwells, 100 calorie packs, and low-fat cheese. But there are two problems with this low-fat-is-better-theory:
- Natural fats are actually GOOD for our bodies.
- When fat is removed or replaced in food products, it’s usually replaced with a range of starches, thickeners, and gums, most of which are less healthy than the fat they are replacing.
Does this mean that we should ignore the amount of fat in our diets? Of course not, but it does mean that we can perhaps relax a bit about the amount of fat consumed and instead ensure that we enjoy a range of healthy fats in our diet. For many years food scientists and even doctors steered us away from saturated fats and towards lower fat options, but more recent studies are finding that, in fact, saturated fats can be healthy for us. Saturated fats come from coconut oil, palm oil, and animal fats. Other types of healthy fats are unsaturated fats, like those found in olive oil and other plant oils. The oils that should always be avoided are trans-fats, which are created by the hydrogenation process and found in processed foods. Scientists have also found that a focus on a low-fat diet has likely led to increased (starch and sugar) calorie consumption, which has surely factored into our current obesity and diabetes epidemic.
Additionally, fats go a long way towards making food taste good and making us feel satisfied. When we fill our bodies with whole foods (even if it is fat-rich whole milk yogurt or coconut butter) we are getting both nourishment and satiety, and less likely to overeat. When foods are made lower fat, they don’t appeal to our senses as much, and we have to consume more to feel satisfied. And that usually means more calories in general, and more fillers contributing to empty calories. Moreover, the products used to replace the fats- like xanthan gum, starches, and emulsifiers- lead to empty calories with no healthful properties.
This does not mean that we should all indulge in ice cream everyday, but it does mean that we should focus our attention of real foods. Our favorite cooking oils are coconut, sesame, and olive oil, and if you eat animal products you can use butter. Other wholesome, high-fat foods to include in your diet are nut butters, seeds, coconut, and tahini (sesame butter). These delicious products will go a long way to ensuring a delicious meal, and do not pose a threat to the cardiovascular system or cholesterol levels. Please avoid fats like margarine, processed vegetable oils (likely GMO corn and/or soy), and Crisco- these are the fats that are actually bad for our bodies.
For more information about the shift towards a less low-fat diet, check out this article on Grist.