A recent column I read by a nutrition expert made me realize why we keep getting nutrition and dieting so wrong. Yes, we need to identify a few specific food choices as off limits (trans fats), and we need to identify selections that should be restricted treats (foods with large amounts of added sugars or saturated fat). But dieters keep wrongly taking entire food categories off the menu. I hear so many people, typically not experts, saying, "Don’t eat fats," or "Don’t’ eat carbs," and that’s way too simplistic, too challenging, and frankly quite wrong when it comes to better health and weight-loss goals.
Basic fat facts
Fats provide us with energy in a very concentrated format. One gram of fat has nine calories, compared to proteins and carbohydrates, which have four calories per gram. A certain amount of fat storage (think of your butt) provides a cushion for when you fall, and body fat can help to protect organs and hold them in position. Fats make up the membrane that surrounds every type of cell in your body, and without fats, the cell can’t function properly. Certain vitamins such as A, D, E, and K, are fat-soluble. These need fat in order to help the body, transport, store, and absorb them. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, also benefits from the presence of fat for maximal absorption. That’s why you should put a bit of olive oil in tomato sauce or when dressing a salad that has tomatoes.
Some fats are good for us, some are not
The ‘fats’ food group plays a huge role in our body’s functions and contributes to our general health. The problem is, some of the fats within the category also contribute to the risk of certain health risks and conditions. Trans fats contribute plaque to the walls of arteries, and that particular plaque can be quite tenacious, remaining even if you cut down on trans fat consumption. Trans fats also make foods taste, really, really good.
Saturated fats, derived from animals, can also clog arteries and contribute to your risk of heart disease. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish and plant-based foods like nuts/seeds), are considered heart-healthy and can also help to minimize inflammatory processes in the body. Polyunsaturated fats (vegetable oils) and monounsaturated fats (avocadoes, olive oils) are considered the healthier oil choices, supporting overall health when consumed in appropriate portion sizes. Given these facts, why would you decide to cut out such an important food group?
What’s a dieter to do?
You need to "manage" your fat choices, and it’s important to emphasize portion control when using oils and fat-based products. Be a label detective: "find the fat" and figure out if it’s healthy or unhealthy fat. Also decide just how many calories per day in your diet should derive from the fat food group. Don’t remove fats from your life. Do however decide to be selective in your oil and condiment choices. Swap out unhealthy fats for healthier fats. Commit to more home cooking so you can select your fats wisely, and control the amount you use. Choose to support your health and lose weight by choosing quality foods like nuts and seeds, avocadoes, fish, plant-based proteins like tofu that all contain the good fats. It’s time to lose the "no fats" attitude. We do need fats daily in our diet to feel full and to be healthy. We just need to choose healthy
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