Let’s start with a little history. Back in 1976, US Senator McGovern raised concerns regarding diet and health - people were eating “wealthy” foods - steaks, cheesecake, etc., heart disease was prevalent, and many of his colleagues were dying prematurely. He thought diet was the link.
He called on a guru of longevity at the time, who also called on a Harvard University professor. They said over-consumption of fat increased LDL cholesterol, which was to blame for heart disease, and it should be replaced with carbohydrates. What was lost in the understanding was the types of fat - saturated vs. unsaturated, and the complexity of cholesterol - LDL and HDL. Also, the carbs that were meant to replace these fats were supposed to be whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Somehow, that advice got lost. Instead, the food processing industry jumped on the opportunity to make low-fat and non-fat substitutions of just about everything - cookies and ice cream to crackers and snacks, to salad dressings, and everything in-between. Marketing was over-the-top, with physicians promoting this “diet”, as well. These foods became the norm in the 1980’s in North America, and obesity climbed. (Also tooth decay, but that's a blog for another time).
Why? Fat gives foods flavour. When the processors removed fat, they replaced that flavour with sugar and artificial flavouring (and colours). The sugar-free versions use saccharin, aspartame, and the like, neurotoxins, which can do a lot of damage (also a topic for a later blog).
Even though research has since proven that the information from the 70’s and 80’s was incomplete at best, and absolutely wrong at worst, the popularity of low-fat and non-fat foods continues.
The healthier way to eat is to eat SMART Carbs and healthy fats. Eating fat doesn’t trigger the hormone response of insulin, which is what causes fat storage. Sugar and simple carbohydrates do. You may be thinking, “But don’t I need my carbs for energy?” The simple answer is yes. However, it’s when carbs turn to Glucagen that you get your energy to burn. Complex carbs, such as those from fibrous vegetables, root vegetables, and whole grains are best. “White” carbs, such as white bread, white rice, white potatoes, as well as the obvious sugary foods digest quickly, causing a sugar spike and the release of insulin. Insulin is a fat-storing hormone, as opposed to Glucagon, the hormone which turns the carbs into what you need for energy-mobilizing/burning. Insulin and Glucagon can’t be in the blood at the same time. What happens then, is that the sugary diet digests faster, insulin in released, and you are hungry sooner, craving – you guessed it…more sugar. You’re in a vicious circle of always having too much insulin in the body. The insulin turns the carbs into glucagen first, but when you don’t burn it all, it turns to fat storage.
Fats, on the other hand, trigger a satiation response. Healthy fats help you feel full sooner and stay full longer. Fats can actually help reduce the sugar spike. This means that a fat-free dessert is really a bad idea. You’re skipping the very part that can help slow down the insulin response. It’s a shame that healthy fats are called fats – it creates a confusion. In the nutrition world, they are actually called Lipids, and as you can probably conclude now, an important part of a healthy diet.
Fats can be broken down into two basic types:
Within the Unsaturated category are 2 sub-groups:
All of these are important in a healthy diet, in small amounts. You may have heard of Trans Fats or Partially Hydrogenated fats or oils, as well. These are to be avoided wherever possible.
For the healthiest combination of fats in your diet, here are some suggestions:
1. Eat a MUFA at every meal! Monounsaturated Fats (or MUFA's) are susceptible to free radicals, causing them to go rancid. This is why olive oil is not recommended for cooking at high heat or kept for a very long time. A small portion of one of these foods at each meal might even help you LOSE weight and reduce that bulge around your middle. Besides olive oil, this category includes olives, nuts and seeds, as well as nut and seed oils and butters, avocados/avocado oil. A serving is small - just because they have healthy benefits doesn’t mean that eating more is good - moderation is the key. A serving is one-fourth of a medium to large avocado, an ounce or handful of nuts and/or seeds, 3-5 olives, one tablespoon of olive oil. Some things to note: try to purchase and eat raw nuts, but when purchasing roasted nuts, be sure they are dry-roasted and have no other ingredients, except perhaps sea salt. If they are roasted in oil, it could be an unhealthy oil, as well as they are basically deep-fried in the oil, ruining the nutritional benefits. Also, there’s a lot of information in the news lately regarding olive oil not being pure. For information, click here. Olive oil should be used uncooked or cooked only up to 220 degrees F. If you are cooking at higher temperatures, use Avocado, Cocounut or Sesame oil. Grapeseed oil can be used at slightly higher temperatures than olive.
2. Get your Omega 3's! Polyunsaturated fats are the least strong or the most unstable of the fats, and usually have to be refrigerated and should be cooked minimally, at low temperatures, if at all. They go rancid easily. These are the ones that provide us our Omegas and come from oily cold-water fish, as well as nuts and seeds, especially flax. Our bodies don’t make Omega 3 and Omega 6, meaning they are ESSENTIAL to get from diet and supplements. Unfortunately, a lot of fish is farmed, given medication in their feed, and even a lot of fresh fish are high in mercury, so eating fish should also be in moderation. It’s best to supplement with a high-quality fish oil combination. If you’re vegan, use flax-seed oil or capsules to obtain your Omegas.
Another note here - many yellow vegetable oils, such as canola, soybean, sunflower, corn, safflower, etc. may have “Good source of Omegas-3 and Omega-6” on their labels. However, these oils are highly processed, highly volatile (invite a lot of free radicals), and offer no nutritional value. In fact, they can disrupt the nutrient balance inside our bodies and CAUSE inflammation, rather than manage it, which is a benefit of healthy fats.
3. Eat only small amounts of Saturated fats. Saturated fats are mainly animal fats, but also include Coconut Oil. Both butter and coconut oil, in small amounts are MUCH HEALTHIER than ANY margarine product. They are REAL food and recognized and metabolized by the body, whereas margarine is NOT. Beef and butter should be from GRASS-FED animals. Poultry and eggs should come from free-range chickens. Game is healthier than domestic animals. No matter what the animal, when they are raised healthily, the products are healthier for us AND we feel full with smaller servings.
The bottom line is FATS (or Lipids,as they are referred to in the Nutrition world), are part of a healthy diet. They have necessary functions in our bodies. They are PART of EVERY cell. Here are just a few things lipids do for us:
* They are our source of energy
* They help make tissue
* They help make biochemicals, such as Vitamin D and bile (the substance that neutralizes stomach acid after proteins are digested).
* They help absorb the Fat Soluble vitamins, which are A,D,E, and K, as well as proteins.
AND, although we don’t want to be obese:
* Some visible body fat is helpful, giving us shape to our bodies, and cushioning for sitting, for example.
* There’s invisible fat storage, as well. It cushions our organs, acting as a shock absorber in the case of an injury.
* It’s part of the cell membrane, holding the cell together.
* It's a component of myelin, a fatty material that’s involved in nerve cells, enabling our bodies to speak, move, see - basically ALL functions of a living body.
AND finally, and maybe even MOST importantly,
* Your brain tissue is rich in fat!
All fats mentioned above have all the other types of fats in them, in smaller percentages, and our bodies will even make some types of fat from others. Use them for flavouring and eat them with ENJOYMENT (in moderation, of course). The ones our bodies don’t make, which means they are ESSENTIAL to obtain in our diets and with supplements, are Omega-3 and Omega-6. Please ask your pharmacist for advice on how to select the best supplements for your unique health needs.