The Good Side of Fat in Our Diet
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
In the age of health foods, “reduced fat” snacks and diets that purport to cut fat out of your diet and off your waistline, we forget that fat isn’t all that bad. Though much derided, we require a certain amount of fat — in our diets and in our bodies — to survive.
Put aside thoughts of P90X and societal pressure to eliminate fat and take a moment to appreciate what body fat does for you every day. Body fat is essential for regulating body temperature. Fat is your body’s insulation, reducing heat loss. This benefit may seem inconvenient in the heat of a southern summer, but come winter you’ll be appropriately grateful.
Fat acts as a cushion, both for the bottom you’re likely sitting on at the moment and for your internal organs. Fat surrounding our internal organs acts as a shock absorber when we fall or are injured. Brain tissue is rich in fat. Nerves are sheathed in a fatty material, without which they would not function. Each and every cell relies on the fat that helps compose the cell membranes that holds them together.
Dietary fat has become so demonized in recent years that some shy away even from avocados — a fruit full of fat and entirely beneficial. Fat is an essential nutrient, which is why we require a supply of dietary fat to survive. Fat, along with protein and carbohydrate, is a source of energy. We need fat to absorb essential vitamins A, D, E and K and require fat to produce hormones. I don’t want to expound too much, but let the takeaway be that out and out disdain for fat is foolish.
Too much of a good thing is rarely wise, however, and fat is widely available in the modern American diet. Fat makes food taste good and purveyors of processed foods use it to their advantage. You might remember several years ago when “trans fat” became a nutrition buzzword. Trans fat occurs naturally in some foods in small quantities. Now, though, the majority of trans fat found in our diet is artificially created through the partial hydrogenation of oils. Trans fat can increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol.
The other fat to avoid is saturated fat. Saturated fat occurs in animal products. Red meat, poultry and full-fat dairy are all sources of the bad cholesterol-increasing fat. Most Americans over consume meat on a daily basis, which in turn leads to an excess amount of fat in our diets.
We still need fat; we just need to consume it in moderate amounts and get it from healthy sources. The next time you start to crave a fatty meal, seek out fat in the form of monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat or omega-3 fatty acids. Foods that contain these types of good fats include avocado, nuts, olive oil, safflower oil, natural peanut butter, salmon and tuna. I’ve included a list of resources about fat below. Eat in moderation and eat well, everyone!