Just when we thought we had it all figured out… what was the good fat: olive oil… what was the bad fat: lard & butter. Just when we got used to fat free milk and yogurt, those low-cal store-bought cookies over homemade cookies, and the slimming breakfast shakes, BAM! We get the smack down. Turns out all those diet drinks and low fat foods we were consuming were low in fat but full of sugar. And, surprise, surprise. Fat isn’t the culprit for making America obese and diabetic. It’s been the sugar all along. SMH! Last month, The New York Times exposed the sugar industry’s false “scientific” health data showing the increase in heart disease caused by a diet that includes fat. They covered their own sweet buns about the unsubstantiated risk of a high fat diet and the very real dangers of sugar.
And, it’s not just any sugar. It’s the hidden sugar. Sugar hidden in all sorts of processed foods that have been labeled low or NO fat! I feel so duped! We’ve been hammered with the idea that saturated fat is the enemy and why we gain weight. And, that it’s what causes hypocholesteremia and heart disease.
I wondered – just what is saturated fat anyway? The explanation is on the molecular level. Saturated fat is a chain of carbon atoms that are literally saturated with hydrogen atoms. Polyunsaturated fats are doubled up chains of atoms. What does that even mean? I decided to back out of the chemistry lab (on tip toe) and delve more into which foods contain which fats and what the benefits of each are to our bodies. So, let’s start with the good fats and work our way down to the bad ones.
But, wait! I thought this article was about how fat is good and sugar is bad. Fat CAN be good for us. But, the trick is understanding the difference between fats. Avoiding the unhealthy fats and doubling down on the good fats, all while balancing the ones in between. Are you confused yet? Because I am.
There are two kinds of good fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Think extra virgin olive oil drizzled on your favorite greens. You have probably heard of the Mediterranean diet. That is simply defined as what people in coastal countries around the Mediterranean Sea eat regularly. And, yes. It’s been proven healthy. Some other healthy monounsaturated fats include nuts and nut oils, like walnut and peanut, as well as, seeds and seed oils, such as safflower and sunflower. I’m including avocados and avocado oil in this group and I’m leaving out canola oil because much of it is genetically modified. And, I don’t do GMOs. Period. Monounsaturated fats haven’t been clinically studied so there are no data to show its health benefits other than the reality that peoples around the world who eat diets high in these fats are healthier and live longer.
Polyunsaturated fats have been clinically studied and are shown to benefit your cell membranes, your cardiovascular system and keep the good and bad cholesterol numbers at optimal levels. These fats contain the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. You get omega-3s from fatty fish like sardines, salmon, and mackerel, or walnuts, if you’re vegan. You get omega-6s from those above mentioned healthy nuts, seeds, and oils. Just incorporating more monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats into your diet can make a huge difference in your health.
There are sublevels of goodness when it comes to healthy fats. Take saturated fats. Saturated fats are those that harden at room temperature. Think bacon grease. Or if you’re vegan, think coconut oil. But, there are so many other healthy fats that were previously thought to be unhealthy such as lard, butter, red meat, and whole milk products. You know that zero fat yogurt you’ve been eating? Turns out they took out the good stuff – the fat. And, they made up for the lack of taste and mouthfeel with added sugar. Oops, spoiler alert.
The nasty fats are the trans fats. These are man-made fats. They take those fats that harden at room temperature and partially hydrogenate the fat on that fatty chain so they do not become solid at room temperature. Turns out this partially hydrogenated fat is the really bad one. Think of margarine and vegetable shortening that are solid yet soft. When you see partially hydrogenated oil in processed foods, you are eating your way to obesity, heart disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes. The trouble is they are in EVERYTHING. Commercially baked breads and pastries, as well as, damn near every other processed food on the market. They sneak that trans fat into all processed foods. Even the ones labeled healthy and or natural. So read labels carefully. Better yet, make your own food from scratch so you can control what’s in your food.
Oh, you don’t bake? Yeah, me neither. Who has time to bake their own bread every week? Patronize bakeries that do not use trans fats in their products. Yeah, I know. It takes time and research. But, wouldn’t you rather make the healthier choice now and save yourself and your family heart disease down the road?
Finally, I’ll drop that other shoe. I’m going after sugar. Or, as I like to call it, white death. Since the advent of the anti-fat campaign, our sugar consumption has risen dramatically. In the past 20 years, America’s rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and many inflammatory conditions have risen to an unhealthy level. One out of every three Americans is now obese.
That’s right. When you travel around the world, you can pick the Americans out in a crowd just by looking at their girth. It’s not entirely our fault. We were fed a bill of goods about fat being bad and we ate it. And, then we ate more of it. We are addicted to sugar without even realizing it. Because even if we weren’t eating actual candy, we were eating unhealthy amounts of sugar in almost every meal that we ate outside of our homes that we didn’t cook from scratch. No judgement here. I gained the sugar weight, too. All while skipping dessert and cutting back on my fat consumption. The one thing I didn’t cut back on was sugar-laden foods containing high fructose corn syrup that I didn’t even know was in all the foods I consumed from prepared foods and or at restaurants. Besides, even when sugar was labeled as sugar, I thought I was just burning it off as energy. And, sugar is addictive. It messes with your brain and fools you into feeling hungry even when you’re full. Damn, that sugar lobby really duped us! And, doped us!
The single best thing you can do is to keep a food diary for a week. Then look at it. Really look at it. Study the ingredients of everything you ate. If you find you’re eating more sugar than fat, take a break from sugar. Oh, yeah. I’m going there. You can do this. Just do it for one week. Do not eat any sugar, hidden or otherwise, and see how you feel. See if you feel any different, if your clothes feel a bit looser. Try to continue another week without sugar and pay attention to the type of fats you are eating. Eat more of the good fats I’ve mentioned above. You should see even more changes. If you need help with this, solicit a family member or friend to do this with you. Or, if you can’t find someone to join you, hire a health coach to support your diet and lifestyle changes.
I encourage you to follow the links below and read more in depth about how adding more good fats to your diet versus bad can actually keep your weight down. And, lose that sugar addiction, will ya? Your body will thank you.