Let’s be honest, most of us have found ourselves all over the map when it comes to our perception of fat. Many of our perceptions come from misleading information on the different types of fats through labeling; thinking that fat makes us fat; or, only associating fat with certain foods. The information “Fat Lane” is full of twist and turns that can lead the average person straight into a brick wall! While fat is often blamed for obesity, the problem is much more complicated than just the overeating of this single nutrient. From healthy skin, hair and nails; to helping with the absorption of vitamins through the bloodstream; to providing essential fatty acids not made by the body, fat is more than cute babies and undesirable thighs, it is the firework finale to all the other macronutrients. From the carb conundrum to the power of protein, this final macronutrient road trip has all the winning moments for replacing the fat we love with the fat we need. So, grab onto your inner Thelma & Louise, as we ride past misconceptions and hone in on identifying, understanding, and choosing life in the fat lane!
The first thing that should be understood is that fat does not make people fat, poor diets and inactivity do. Eating or drinking most your calories from fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol leads to weight gain. Combine that with consuming more than you can physically burn off, your age, genetics, gender, and finally your lifestyle and you are quite possibly on the path to obesity. Choosing healthy fats are better for your overall health and can help you to live a longer, healthier life. However, it is important to remember that when it comes to your waistline, all fats have about the same number of calories. Whether you are eating a bag of your favorite potato chips or a can of your favorite nuts, both have 9 calories per gram, contrasted to carbs and protein that have only 4 calories per gram. Again, it is the type of fat that makes the health difference in eating nuts over chips, nevertheless, eating a can of nuts is just as fattening as eating a bag of chips if you do not watch the serving size.
It is easy to label certain foods as “bad” or “good”; but labeling can be a pitfall by giving room for the misconception that one can overindulge just because it is “good”. I can recall people walking through the office with Ziploc baggies full of pretzels, keeping pretzels in their cars, and all over their desk because the craze was that pretzels were so much healthier that chips. Lo and behold, no one lost weight from replacing their chip consumption with pretzels! Why? The sodium content in pretzels not only helped to increase their midsection, but blood pressure as well; and pretzels, like chips, are a snack food! Think veggie chips are more virtuous than potato chips? How about turkey burgers having less fat than a beef burger? Or, how about that bowl of high fiber cereal you traded in for Frosted Flakes? Think again! Many foods that seem healthy are actually fat traps. Veggies chips are processed the same way as regular chips; turkey burgers ordered in restaurants are made from dark meat and turkey skin; and fiber high cereals are often loaded with sugar. Move away from the concept of labeling foods as “good” and “bad” and focus on reading the label to distinguish what is healthy.
Fat comes in two main forms, unsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fats remain in their fluid state at room temperature, while saturated fats turn solid at room temperature. Thinking of your arteries, which sounds as if it is the best choice for your health? Yes, unsaturated fats! Our bodies need some saturated fat, but the majority of our fat intake should come from unsaturated fats; and never from trans fats. The current recommendation is about 25-35 percent of your daily calories should come from fat (56-78 grams of fat on a 2,000-calorie diet), with no more than 10 percent (22 grams) coming from saturated fat. Healthy fats such as the monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3s have a positive effect on our bodies! These types of fats help manage mood, control hunger, maintain mental clarity, and fight fatigue.
It is very important to focus on healthy fat to completely reset your body for a new lifestyle and a leaner, stronger you! I could give you a food list to follow, but that would not motivate you to understand what to eat and why. It is also imperative to understand the types of fat that are beneficial for your body along with those that are not! It is simple to tell people what to eat; I prefer to share how to eat because inspiration is thought, motivation is action. Check out your motivating fat lane list below!
THE GO LANE: Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are considered the best for your overall health because they can improve blood cholesterol levels, help with inflammation, help blood pressure, and cardiac health. This type of fat is great for your overall health with easy swaps like butter for olive or seafood for red meat. Below are the two types of unsaturated fats you need to know: Monounsaturated fats raise good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Some of the best sources are olive oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and avocados!
Monounsaturated fats raise good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and lower bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Some of the best sources are olive oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and avocados!
Polyunsaturated fats can help lower your total cholesterol level and are found foods like walnuts, flaxseeds, sunflower oil, corn oil, and fish.
Omega-3s are the polyunsaturated powerhouses of healthy fats! The body cannot make Omega-3s, so they must come from foods. Adding fatty fish like albacore tuna, salmon, mackerel, and sardines can help fight inflammation, control blood clotting, and even help to lower blood pressure and triglycerides.
THE YIELD LANE: Saturated Fats
This is a type of fat is potentially harmful to your health. Saturated fats are primarily found in meat, but there are some plant sources (i.e. coconuts, coconut oil, palm kernel oil) that have a high level as well. Saturated fat raises total blood cholesterol levels and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fat may also increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Even healthy foods like chicken and nuts have small amounts of saturated fat, so the American Heart Association recommends a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. This can easily be achieved by limiting foods like beef fat, cheese, ice cream, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, lard, cream and butter, or opting for more unsaturated fat foods in your diet
THE DON’T PASS “GO”, GO STRAIGHT TO JAIL LANE: Trans Fats
Trans fats are labeled as hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated, or shortening; check even those foods labeled as “zero trans fats” because they can still contain these ingredients. Trans fats not only increase total cholesterol and bad cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL); they also lower good cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL). This is double trouble for our heart health. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified partially hydrogenated vegetable oil “no longer generally recognized as safe” and that it should be phased out over the next several years, I say why wait! Here are some foods to start phasing out on your own: potato, corn and tortilla chips, microwave popcorn, ready-made frosting, frozen pizza, deep fried foods (inc. french fries), baked goods containing shortening (i.e. cracker, cookies, pies); nondairy coffee creamer; and stick margarine.
We all need fat in our life! There is no doubt about that. Not only does fat give food amazing flavor, it gives us the feeling of fullness, and provides our bodies with beneficial, body-fueling nutrients. Eating low-fat is not a colored label on food or giving up fat from our diet, it is cutting choices that add weight and increase our health risks! Educating ourselves is practicing healthy living! Eating for both enjoyment and health is what it takes to make the right changes when cruising Life in the Fat Lane. And, doing it in a blue 1966 Ford Thunderbird convertible doesn’t hurt either! Minus the whole over the cliff thing!
Erika D. White is a certified fitness professional who believes in building strong, healthy, ageless men & women. Connect with Erika at www.ErikaWhite.net or every Tuesday at noon on 13abc’s Ask the Expert
Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. “Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism.” Fourth Edition. Belmont, CA. Wadsworth Pub Co. 2005.