How much fat do we need per day? What is the best source of fat? Is saturated fat unhealthy? All of these issues surrounding fat have been debated for years and the debate is still going on. Look at all the array of diet plans and books available in your local bookstore and on the internet. There is a plan and it is quite simple. Instead of eating white flour products like commercially made cookies, cakes, breads, muffins, highly processed foods, sugar and the like, eat whole grains, whole grain breads, whole foods, and guess what, fat becomes a non-issue.
Unfortunately, fat has become a national obsession in this country and debated to no end. If you eliminate or avoid highly processed foods and refined carbohydrates and avoid too much animal protein, fat would not be an issue, especially if your goal is to lose weight. You need fat to live. Your brain is approximately 2/3 fat and you need a certain amount of good fats which have to come from somewhere. Eating too much of the wrong kind of fat is when it becomes a problem.
For years, the concensus has been that saturated fat was bad for us and if we ate too much of it, heart disease, diabetes and other diseases were sure to follow. But most foods contain a certain amount of fat and they do play a role in a healthy diet. The key is to balance these fats in your bloodstream. In the typical American diet, we get too much fat that occurs in animals and not enough of the kind that occurs in plants. The right balance means not adding to the cholesterol your body is already producing and eating the healthy fats like Omega 3’s (fish oil) found in oily fish like salmon and good fats found in nuts.
When it comes to cholesterol, there is good (HDL) cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol and the ratio between the two is more important than the total amount of cholesterol. Your liver produces cholesterol and you also get cholesterol from what you eat. What determines how much cholesterol your liver makes? It all boils down to the kinds of fat you eat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats raise the good cholesterol which are fats that are liquid at room temperature like olive oil, macadamia nut oil, etc. Saturated fats found in animals are not too bad in SMALL quantities because they raise both good and bad cholesterol. The fats you want to stay away from are TRANS FATS which are used to make margarine, junk food and highly processed foods which have an endless shelf life but they do nothing for your shelf life.
Here are some tips for eating less processed foods, good fats and less animal products. You will be surprised how easy it is to do:
1. Eat all the leafy greens you can manage – eat as much as you want. Go crazy! You will do yourself a favor by eating these instead of anything else.
2. Use soy milk, almond milk or oat milk in place of regular milk. You will avoid the hormones and antibiotics found in cow’s milk.
3. Eat less animal protein – substitute fish and small amount of eggs and think of these as a treat not a staple.
4. Eat legumes or beans daily if possible.
5. Choose whole grain breads and cereals and make sure the label states 100% whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.
6. Snack on nuts or add them to your salad at dinner. Make your own trail mix with your favorite nuts and add some fruit to it.
7. Use olive oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, toasted sesame oil instead of butter.
8. Treat yourself daily with a piece of dark chocolate or melt some dark chocolate and dip a strawberry into it for a luxurious dessert.
You don’t have to obsess about fat and fat grams. It is all about eating good fats, whole grains, leafy greens and whole foods at every meal and before long, you will notice a huge difference in how you look and feel. Eat like the Italians do by eating a large plate of leafy greens first and then eat a small piece of meat or chicken. Find strategies that work for you because not everyone responds to making changes the same way. You can transition into the tips listed above gradually and reach your goals in your time. I wish you glowing good health.
Sherry L. Granader, ACE, AFAA, NETA, ACSM, BBU