Americans are clearly obsessed with low-fat and fat-free foods. A walk down the aisle of any grocery store will confirm this obsession. There have never been so many options. You can’t get away from all the supposedly guilt-free foods: fat-free ice cream, hot dogs, salad dressing, cream cheese; low-fat chips, cookies, candy, cakes, deli meats, sour cream; the list goes on and on. Even pretzels are being touted as low-fat as if there was a time when they were not.
And while our modified-fat food choices continue to expand, so do our waistlines. Clearly, fat-free and low-fat foods haven’t delivered on their lean, healthy promises. Despite what you may have heard, eating a low-fat diet isn’t the simple answer to the battle of the bulge. And as a matter of fact, not eating enough fat can actually make weight loss more challenging.
There are nearly as many myths about fat as there are facts. When it comes to weight loss and health in general, it’s important to know the truth. Let me dispel some of those myths and give you the straight facts.
Myth: All fats are bad.
Fact: Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are actually good for you. They can lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. Some examples of these healthy fats are olive oil, canola oil, nuts, avocado, and olives. Saturated fats and trans fats are the unhealthy types of fat. They can raise cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. Processed foods and fast foods tend to be particularly high in these unhealthy fats.
Myth: Eating low fat food is the key to weight loss.
Fact: The low-fat diet fad began about 20 years ago and it still lingers today. Interesting, the obesity rate for Americans has dramatically increased during this same period of time making it clear that there is more to weight management than simply eating low fat foods. In fact, eating too little fat can actually leave you feeling hungry and result in overeating. Since fats are filling, eating a healthy amount of fat every day is actually a good idea.
Myth: Foods labeled fat-free are healthy.
Fact: Foods that have been modified to be fat-free can actually be higher in sugar and calories than their fat-containing counterparts. Just because the label says “fat-free” doesn’t mean you can eat all you want without the consequence of gaining weight. Lower fat versions of your favorite foods can be a helpful addition to your weight control eating plan; however it’s best to be mindful and discriminating about your choices. Better yet, go for foods that are naturally fat-free foods like fruits, vegetables, and beans – and get the added benefit of natural fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Myth: There is no actual need for fat.
Fact: Fat is an essential nutrient and it is vital for health. In fact, not eating enough fat can have detrimental consequences. Fat supplies essential fatty acids for growth, healthy skin, vitamin absorption and regulation of important bodily functions such as immunity. Individual fat requirements depend on lifestyle, weight, age and most importantly the state of one’s health. Generally speaking, however, aim to keep your total fat intake at about 20-30% of total calories. In other words, if you are consuming 1500 calorie/day, you should eat about 40 grams of fat. (Note: each 1 gram of fat = 9 calories).
Bottom line – What’s so fattening about fat? Absolutely nothing. Fat can and should be part of a healthy weight loss eating plan. Fat tastes good and it’s very satisfying. And not eating enough fat everyday can leave you feeling deprived – a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. Choose healthy fats, enjoy them in moderation, and eat your way to permanent weight loss.