Long demonized, dietary fats have made a break from the past, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Even so, the concept of good fats is an oxymoron for some folks. It’s just stuck in their heads that all fat is bad. But we’re a long way away from the old food pyramid that dumped all fat and oils into the tip with a warning to “use sparingly.” Now liquid oils and other good fats like nuts have earned a coveted spot on USDA’s MyPlate. For most adults, we should aim for 5-7 teaspoons of oils each day (which includes nuts, olives and avocados).
The topic of good fats was the focus of my latest blog for WebMD’s Real Life Nutrition. In the post, I talked about a new Purdue study that should make you think twice about buying a fat-free salad dressing. Researchers at Purdue found that a fat-free or low-fat salad dressing reduced the absorption of fat-soluble carotenoids – beneficial compounds in the salad such as lutein, lycopene, beta-carotene and zeaxanthin. So by buying some type of bottled fat-free dressing instead of mixing up your own vinaigrette with a luscious-tasting extra-virgin olive oil, you’re not only missing out on the benefits of the oil, you’re getting less out of the salad you just tossed. Plus, just think how much better it’s all going to taste with your own dressing.
The study’s lead author Mario Ferruzzi advised:
If you want to utilize more from your fruits and vegetables, you have to pair them correctly with fat-based dressings. If you have a salad with a fat-free dressing, there is a reduction in calories, but you lose some of the benefits of the vegetables.
This is just another reason why it’s best not to assume that fat-free or low-fat is always better. Sometimes you’re not even saving calories, as this comparison chart illustrates, and the “low-fat” health halo could coax you into eating twice as much, as three recent studies from Cornell University have shown. You also need to look at the ingredients that were used in a product to replace the fat (maybe extra sugar or refined carbs, perhaps more additives). Even messages about eating a low-fat diet can backfire, as this overview from Harvard asserts:
One problem with a generic lower fat diet is that it prompts people to stop eating fats that are good for the heart along with those that are bad for it.
So that’s the big issue. We need to get over our fear of fat so we won’t miss out on the multiple benefits of “good fats.” And we need to get past the idea that low-fat is always better. Here are some suggestions from Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab on how to avoid the low-fat trap:
- Pay attention to the calorie count of foods, particularly low–fat foods. When researchers went to a grocery store and looked at the fat and calorie content of various packaged foods, they found that although the low–fat versions of these foods have 59% less fat than the regular versions, the drop in calorie content is only 15%, which is not large enough to justify our increased consumption.
- Understand what claims like “low–fat” and “reduced fat” really mean, and be sure you’re looking at serving sizes on the label.
- Consider buying regular or full–fat versions of snack foods instead of the low–fat ones if you think you’ll still be tempted to overeat. This is especially important for overweight people who showed a strong tendency to overeat low–fat foods, regardless of serving size labels. Also, some research shows that the ingredients companies use to replace the fat can actually make you hungrier, causing you to overeat.
Image courtesy of Selfish Vegan on flickr