Fats - Not Created Equal

To expand on Dr. Willett’s quote from my last blog, we’ve often heard that fat is bad. Simple as that. However, this is not true and is never what the science showed, but was rather a tragic oversimplification of the science. Saturated fat was the culprit contributing to increased disease and mortality. But other fats, such as mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, were, and still are, shown to be healthy for you. Importantly, I am not saying these fats are “not as bad” for you. I am saying they are in fact healthy for you. Like a fruit or a vegetable, they actually contribute in many ways to health and longevity. Such fats play integral roles in regulating cholesterol, protecting nerves, building hormones, controlling blood clotting, and more. Without diving too deep into the literature on fats, it is worth noting that the reputable Nurses’ Health Study has shown that replacing 5% of total calories as saturated fat with unsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart attack or death from heart disease by 40%. This is no small reduction! Also, in the Seven Countries study from long ago, the country with the lowest rate of heart disease (Crete) had the highest average total fat intake, mostly from olive oil. This is because not all fats are created equal. There are good fats and bad fats. Saturated and trans-fats are the bad ones, so avoid them when you can!

To help you at the grocery store, I have provided a list below that includes the most common sources of good and bad fats. This list also appears in Dr. Willett’s book, which I described a couple blogs ago. Some of these items are probably obvious, while others may be surprising.

Good Fat (Poly- and Mono-Unsaturated Fat)
  • Peanuts, cashews, peanut butter, and most other nuts
  • Avocadoes, corn, soybeans, and olives
  • Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, and corn oil
  • Fish
Bad Fat (Saturated Fat)
  • ·       Whole milk, butter, cheese, and ice cream
  •      Red meat
  •      Chocolate
  •      Coconuts, coconut milk, and coconut oil

Bad Fat (Tans-Fat)
*Mostly banned now, but may still pop up in restaurants from the following sources.
  • ·       Most margarines
  •      Vegetable shortenings and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils
  •      Deep fried chips and French fried
  •      Many fast foods and commercial baked goods

While often favored for its multi-purpose uses ranging from cosmetics to cooking, note that coconut oil is actually lumped into the “bad fat” category next to cheese, butter, and red meat. So while they may be fine to apply as skin or hair cosmetics, from a dietary standpoint most coconut products are major sources of saturated fat and therefore should be eaten sparingly. An exception is coconut water sold at the store. Most of these drinks have been processed to remove the fat. Though if you’re unsure, you can always check the nutrition label on the back of the product.  

A word on fat-free products

It is important to realize that most non-fat products maintain good flavor by simply replacing fats with sugars. And this is not necessarily a good thing. It fact, it is often bad. First, you may be replacing good fats with empty sugars calories, as is often the case with non-fat salad dressing where healthy oils have been replaced with nutritionally deprived sugars. In other cases, such as milk and cheese, low- or fat-free options make sense. Second, non-fat products, while lower in fat, often contain the same or more in total calories. And importantly, carbohydrates (sugars) increase weight just as effectively as fats. Third, eating refined sugar leads to insulin spikes in the blood that don’t occur when eating fat. Finally, eating non-fat products can have the unintended effect of making the consumer think they can eat more of that product, since it’s fat free, ultimately resulting in higher calorie intake and weight gain. So be careful when you choose “fat-free.” 

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                             Shahir Masri, M.S.


Healthy Eating Tip #2 – Choose the Right Fats

“Fats from nuts, seeds, grains, fish and liquid oils (including olive, canola, soybean, corn, sunflower, peanut, and other vegetable oils) are good for you, especially when you eat them in place of saturated and trans fat. The all-fat-is-bad message has started a huge national experiment, with us as the guinea pigs. As people cut back on fat, they usually eat more carbohydrates. In America today, that means more highly refined or easily digested foods like sugar, white bread, white rice, and potatoes. This switch usually fails to yield the hoped-for weight loss or lower cholesterol levels. Instead it often leads to weight gain and potentially dangerous changes in blood fats—lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called good protective cholesterol, and higher triglycerides (a major type of blood fat). Substituting unsaturated fats for saturated fats, though, improves cholesterol levels across the board. It may also protect the heart against rhythm disturbances that can end in sudden death. The bottom line is this: It is perfectly fine to get more than 30% of your daily calories from fats as long as most of those fats are unsaturated. The Healthy Eating Pyramid (below) highlights the importance of keeping saturated and trans fats to a minimum by putting red meat, whole-milk dairy products, butter, and hydrogenated vegetable oils in the “Use Sparingly” section at the top.”
                       Dr. Walter Willett
                       Professor of Nutrition, Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health

I will expand on this quote by discussing more on fats in my next blog later this week! Until then, here is Dr. Willett's Healthy Eating Pyramid, an improvement from the outdated USDA pyramid. 

If you found this article informative, please support me by joining my blog!  Simply click the “join this site” button at the top right of the page, log in using your Yahoo, Google, or Twitter account, and click “follow publicly.”  Thanks!!

                                                                                             Shahir Masri, M.S.