All fats are not created equal. But which are good and which are not. Here are a few tips on how to choose.
Few things, aside from politics, hold more controversy in the media than nutrition recommendations. Experts from diverse professional and personal backgrounds promote their own guidelines and programs as best, while denouncing all others, much to the confusion and detriment of the general public. Nowhere is this more true than with dietary fat recommendations. Longstanding nutritional wisdom recommends a low fat diet as best, whereas recent updates have trumpeted the “Eat all the fat you want, it’s carbs that are bad!” message, which has been embraced widely. So which is correct, and does the source of fat matter?
Without delving deeply into the mountain of research, I choose to recommend a low to moderate fat diet to my clients and anyone else who cares to ask. My rationale is simple; just because the previous research is old does not mean it was bad science, and looking at healthy populations around the world we consistently find that they consume moderate to low fat diets. In fact, you can research the diets of the longest lived people in the world, in places such as Linda Vista California, Bama China, or Okinawa Japan, and you will consistently find these populations eat a low fat diet and enjoy excellent health for upwards of 100 years! Not only does that evidence convince me, but eating a higher fat diet will displace the other extremely important macronutrients: carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates are essential because they are the primary fuel for our muscles and nervous system, and they have the greatest stimulatory impact on our metabolic rate, and protein is important for maintenance and repair of body tissues.
Due to these facts, I generally recommend my clients consume about 20% of their daily calories from sources of fat. But do the sources matter? Of course they do! As with any other nutrient you care to name, the most health supporting sources of dietary fats are whole plant foods because they contain antioxidants, fiber, concentrated micronutrients and phytochemicals. Animal sources of fat have little to none of these micronutrients and antioxidants. Animal sources also have much higher proportions of saturated fat and environmental contaminants, and contain cholesterol.
The most concentrated sources of plant fats are found in nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados. Avoid processed forms of these foods such as oils because you will be missing out on all the bonus nutrition I mentioned about And when consuming these foods it’s a good idea to err on the side of extra omega three fat sources since they tend to be harder to get in the diet. Great whole food sources of omega three fatty acids are chia seeds, ground flax seeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts.
So the next time you’re wondering if grabbing that handful of nuts is a good idea, go right ahead because, in moderation, you will be supporting your long term health. Just keep in mind that these foods are very high in calories, so it can be easy to overshoot that 20% guideline!