The Skinny on Fat - A conversation about dietary fats
So you've got questions on "fats"...
* Yeah so I don’t have time for all this learning stuff. It’s boring. I get overwhelmed easily. I have stuff to do…..oh look! A squirrel!!
Hey!! Get back here. Focus. Listen -- I know we’re all busy. Soooo busy. But you’ve got time for Candy Crush. Catching up with The Bachelor. Digging belly button lint out of your navel. You can find time to make sure you’re doing the best you can for you (and your family) toward a long, healthy, disease-free life. Wanna eat well now and treat your body right? Or spend the majority of your time hanging out in doctors’ offices in a few years? What’s more important than learning this stuff? No, really. What is more important?
* Wow. Valid point. Ok, let’s talk. Sooo...fats. They’re bad, right?
Nope. All fats are not created equal. There are “good” fats. And “bad” fats. The “good” fats are essential for body functions, good mental and emotional health, losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight and so on. The “bad” ones are largely responsible for our country’s epidemic of high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, Honey Boo-Boo...
* So I WANT to eat fats?? I thought eating fat made me fat?
Yes you do. And no sirree! Eating more calories than you need makes you fat. Eating crap processed foods with no nutritional value makes you fat. Eating too many fats make you fat. Problem is, trans and saturated fats have become so prevalent in our “normal” American diet that you really need to educate yourself and just make an effort and choice to cut down on them and/or avoid them.
* Ugh! Stupid sneaky fats. So which ones are good for me?
Well there are no solid studies showing that any singular kind of fat is absolutely bad for you (other than those trans-suckers). It’s eating an excess of the foods that contain a lot of them that does it to us.
But if we really need to break it down, just remember:
Trans fats -- BAD!
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats -- GOOD! -and-
Saturated fats -- OKAY! (Occasionally and within reason.)
The biggest offenders in the trans fat department are generally the processed “convenience foods”. Cake & pancake mixes, frozen dinners and microwave popcorn are bad, mmk? Trans fats are also found in things like store-bought cookies, pastries & muffins, craptastic “treats” that come in packages like chips, crackers & candy and, of course, “fast” and fried foods.
Find the good guys, your mono- and poly- unsaturated fats, from foods like nuts and seeds and nut/seed oils (sunflower, peanut, sesame, walnut, almond), olives, avocados, flaxseed, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, mackerel, trout). These fats are good for you. NECESSARY for your body’s functions. And as long as you’re not honking down bags of almonds at a time - eat ‘em up!
Saturated fats are found in things like fattier cuts of meat, whole fat dairy (milk, cheese, butter, ice cream), palm oil, coconut oil and lard. (Heh heh - she said “lard”.) There’s no evidence from our most recent data and research that says these fats themselves cause any real negative impact in the body -- when consumed in moderation! It’s when we go out and eat three cheese burgers from the good ol’ golden arches, or mindlessly pig out on pizza or ice cream that we start creating a problem for ourselves.
* Makes sense. What about all those “low fat” products I always see? Can’t I just switch all my favorite foods over to those versions??
No. Let’s do this the right way. Yes, there may be less calories in those things if you’re a calorie counter. But more often than not, you’re trading those “saved” calories (and fat - which we already decided you should be eating anyway) for a shi-…..um, poop storm of chemicals and unnatural ingredients and preservatives. And these “diet” (*shudder* don’t say the “d” word!) foods frequently contain a lot of extra sugar as well. On top of that, if you look at our country’s population over the last few decades, studies show there seems to be a direct correlation between when all these “low-fat”/“no-fat” options came on the market and the rise in our obesity epidemic. No bueno.
I’d rather you eat a whole, preferably organic, version of a food with all its fat than eat its diluted, mutated monstrosity of a cousin. Not only are you usually getting all those additives and unnatural ingredients, you will not be as satiated as you would have been had you just chosen the full-fat version in the first place.
* So you’re healthy and stuff - I bet you never eat those things right?
Pssshh. Heck no! I love ice cream! I also enjoy some organic cheese on occasion and once in a while -- *gasp* I use butter when I bake! I generally follow a Paleo diet but EVERYthing in MODERATION. There’s no point in demonizing foods or striking them from your diet because some article tells you to. A lifestyle like that (unless you’re a super-dedicated athlete in training for competitions or something) is not reasonable or sustainable. And, let’s just say it, life should be enjoyed, right?! So heck yeah I hit that ice cream bar once in a while - extra toppings, syrup and whipped cream, the works. But it’s in MODERATION.
* Moderation. I like it. So I can still have some of my trans fats here and there, right?
No. You heard me. No. I mean, as much as you possibly can - eliminate them from your diet. Not because they’re a “naughty food”. But because they’ll kill you. Capiche? It’s not the same as demonizing those amazing brownies your mom makes from scratch with all natural, albeit fatty, highly-caloric ingredients. This is a science thing. A food industry thing. A “why the heck doesn’t our government step up and ban this stuff once and for all” thing. Trans fats are actually frankensteined fat molecules. They were normal once - poor lil’ guys. But food industry people found that if they modified them by heating up vegetable oil and combining it with hydrogen gas, they’d get a product which would last longer on the shelf. More sales. More money. Awesome for them - nothing but bad news for consumers. So quit buying them and definitely quit eating them!
Cassandra Shoneck is a Certified Personal Trainer (NASM), CrossFit L1 Trainer, and CrossFit Kids Coach as well as a health and nutrition NUT! If she's not working out, training clients or creating healthy new recipes in the kitchen, she can be found reading and studying the latest articles and research regarding general fitness, nutrition & food, and how the body processes it all. She can be contacted at Cassandra@LiveSoFit.com.
"Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work." ~Aristotle