Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Fat: Friend or Foe?

I am not ten words into this blog post and I have already committed a heinous crime in my book: referring to anything food-related as though I have a relationship with it! It is my opinion that food in general should never be thought of in relational terms... it is neither an enemy or a ally. But, for the sake of a title that is a bit more exciting than, "Fat Facts" or something equally unimaginative, I am going against my convictions just this once. If you dare come away from my blog loving or hating food, then, then...  I can't think of anything drastic that I would do right now, but it would be dramatic and unpleasant. (It might even include posting an exceedingly lengthy clarification blog post, which we all would like to avoid, I'm sure.) Got it?

But, now that we are thinking of food in terms of fuel and not as our substitute boyfriends/ girlfriends OR evil villains, we come to a controversial, confusing topic: FAT. And before I look at it from a nutritional standpoint, I must get something out in the open: I don't know WHO'S idea it was to make the word for a crucial nutrient and the word used to describe an unhealthily overweight individual interchangeable, but I'm telling you, that person confused a whole lot of people. Including me!

The fact is, a few years ago, I thought these words were interchangeable. So, therefore, I was afraid that if I ate anything that had a gram of fat in it that it would immediately tack fat onto to my body. I was completely wrong. This incorrect thinking, so if you are thinking this way, STOP! Fat is not the enemy. Fat is not evil. Eating the fat-laden cheeseburger below will not guarantee that you will die of a heart attack by age 40.


You now know what dietary fat is not. Here is what it is. Dietary fat, also know as a lipid, is one of the three macro-nutrients that the body dissolves so that it can function properly. Unlike carbohydrates and protein,  fat has 9 calories instead of four. This means that there is more energy per fat gram than per gram of carbohydrate or protein. This is why experts recommend you cut out fat if you are trying to cut back on calories: Because it is denser in calories, you can cut out a little bit of fat and reduce your calories a lot, even if you only reduce your food intake a little. However, it is extremely rare for anyone who knows anything about nutrition to tell you to cut out fat altogether. Why? Because fat is an ESSENTIAL nutrient. For those of you who need a vocab-refresher, essential means that it is not just beneficial, but necessary for good health.

Why is it essential? Fat is a jack of all trades. It gives your body energy.  It helps keep your body warm. It insulates your vital organs from bodily trauma. (Translation: It keeps your innards safe if you run into a telephone pole or something equally traumatic.) Fat carries vitamins so they can be absorbed by the body. (Like a vitamin taxi-cab.) It keeps you fuller longer! Just this morning, I tried to get away with eating a fat-free breakfast because I like toast and smoothies better than eggs. And guess who was hungry by 8:00 a.m, after eating breakfast only two hours before? Fat is necessary for producing hormones. Fat is necessary for brain development and function! Do you get the picture? Fat matters! It shouldn't be avoided like the plague, because if it is, you'll wind up with more issues than when you started.

So are we all agreed that all fats are not bad? Good. Now, you must know something else: Not all fats are created equal. There are four basic types of fat. Trans fat, Saturated fat, Monounsaturated fat, and Polyunsaturated fat.

First, Trans Fat. This is what happens when man decided to mess with what God created. There are several very natural fats in creation, but trans-fat is chemically altered so that it can act as a preservative in food. However, this is one fat that has very little controversies surrounding it: it has been linked directly to heart disease. It is recommended that you limit the intake of trans-fat containing foods. Just read your labels... if you bake most of your cookies and muffins at home, you've probably just eliminated trans-fat from your diet. Basically, avoid an everyday diet that looks like the one below...
junk food photo: sample of junk food for ArgoArgo junk-food-thumb1510832.jpg


 And bake your own baked goods. Simple enough? See, I told you nutrition wasn't complicated!

Next, Saturated Fat. These fats are usually solid at rooms temperature and are commonly found in animal products like milk, cheese, steak, and butter. However, both palm oil and coconut oil are plant-based foods that have them, so the gist is that they're solid at room temperature. EXCESS quantities of them have been linked to heart disease, but EXCESS is the key word here! The American Dietetic Association recommends limiting intake to less than 7% of your daily intake. But who likes to include math when it comes to eating? I generally just try eat things like chips, doughnuts,  and creams (the things I don't like so much)  in moderation, an splurge occasionally (okay, more than occasionally!) on the good stuff: chocolate! Maybe you like chips and butter on your bread, but you aren't a huge sweets person. Either way, just try to be balanced in what you eat: don't eliminate these foods all together, and don't eat a quarter cup of butter on your toast every morning. And guess what? Butter is good for even more than adding flavor to your toast! Check this out!

butter sculpture photo: Butter sculpture CIMG1914.jpg
Sorry this picture is so small, but that is a butter carving!!!  Yes, apparently people do carve butter as a's that for playing with your food?
Anyways, bunny trail... Onto Polyunsaturated fat!!! Yay, this is my favorite fat! It is liquid at room temperature, and comes in the form of olive oil, sunflower oil, PEANUT BUTTER (thank God that peanut butter is good for you!) and edamame!  Did you catch that? Two of my very favoratist (spell check officially hates me) foods are a great source of polyunsaturated fats!  And guess what? Instead of harming heart health, polyunsaturated fats (a.k.a. peanut butter!) are considered heart healthy and have been seen to lower blood cholesterol! Did I say yay already? Because I think a second "yay!" is called for! This is the type of fat found in edamame, after all!

Last but not least, Monounsaturated fat! Pistachios, almonds, pecans, peanut butter (it is a source of both polyunsaturated fat AND monounsaturated fat... isn't peanut butter great?) and yes, Mary Frances, AVOCADOS are all great sources of this fat. And guess what? This fat is also great for your heart! Oh yeah!
So, to sum it all up, fat is not bad, but choose your fats wisely. Enjoy the saturated and trans fats occasionally, and lather on the peanut butter! (In moderation, of course!)