Good Fat vs. Bad Fat

Vicki Shaver continues to search for the right stuff to eat.

Isn’t all fat bad? Doesn’t it make sense that fat causes you to be fat? (Logical, right?)

Not so fast.

Ever since the low fat craze of the 1970s and 80s, fat has been vilified. Around the same time (or in conjunction with), high fructose corn syrup arrived to save the day. Removing fat from food also removed the TASTE from food. To accommodate the loss, sweetness was added and everyone LOVED it! They ate it up…in mass quantities. Foods labeled low fat or fat free were flying off the shelves. It was easy to overeat these items, like Snackwell’s Cookies, without the guilt associated with butter-filled treats prior to the confusing labeling. Back in the day, I could eat more than my share of Snackwell Vanilla Crème Sandwich Cookies!

But, claims that fat free = healthy were very misleading and did some damage.

I bet you can guess what happened. No one lost weight – at least not in the long term. Instead, Americans have steadily gained and gained since that time. According to a 2016 CBS News report, Americans have gained 15 or more additional pounds (without getting taller) since the 1980s. I’m sure there are other factors such as lower levels of activity, but it is hard to ignore that the attack on fat in foods began around that same time as the steady weight gain.

By the way, Snackwell’s are still around, but now they are marketed as “free from high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil.” Maybe we are learning from past mistakes. I sure am. I run the opposite direction…right toward tasty, satisfying good fats!

When is fat good?

WedMD (they’re real doctors, right?) says that we can’t live without fats. Here’s what we need them for: soft skin, energy, improved cholesterol and decreased risk of heart disease, and to deliver fat soluble vitamins. One they don’t mention is satiety. Fat makes you feel fuller, longer.

Where do good fats come from?

Plant-based, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources such as, avocados, cheese, eggs, dark chocolate, fatty fish, olive oil, nuts and seeds. What’s not to love here?

When is fat bad?

Besides being high in calories, there is a reason to consume good fats in moderation. However, there are also fats you should avoid. Saturated and trans fats are potentially harmful to your heart health. These fats can increase bad cholesterol (yes there is good and bad cholesterol, too!), clog arteries, as well as increase your risk of colon and prostate cancer. These fats are VERY bad.

Where do bad fats come from?

Butter, margarine, beef and pork fat, high fat dairy, tropical oils (more on this!), fried foods, baked goods and processed snack foods such as crackers, microwave popcorn, and cookies (our old friend Snackwell’s). The processed foods here can be hard to avoid, especially if you lead a busy life with no time for informed shopping and meal planning.

Something to mention about saturated fats is that the evidence of their badness is a bit muddled. Many popular diets advocate for the inclusion of saturated fat, such as coconut oil. Paleo and Keto diet fans argue that naturally occurring saturated fat from whole foods is not dangerous. They point to historical societies that ate lots of saturated fats and enjoyed low rates of heart disease. They refer to a 2010 Meta analysis that found no real evidence that dietary saturated fat leads to heart disease risk. Bring on the coconut oil!

Not so fast.

In a viral video going around, a Harvard professor goes so far as to call coconut oil “pure poison.” In response, New York Times health and food writers addressed the confusion. While they could find no data to support any health benefits of coconut oil, they suggest that the type of coconut oil can make a difference. Similar to olive oil, virgin coconut oil is a healthier choice. Refined coconut oil has been processed to the point of destroying anything good that was there to begin with.

I’m not sure I’ve cleared up anything in this debate, but I can tell you that including healthy fats in my diet not only improves the taste of food, it keeps me satisfied between meals. For me that means less snacking, which leads to healthier choices.

It used to be hard for me to stick to a way of eating because the food didn’t always taste great or I was always hungry. Adding a little good fat has changed that for me. Now the hard part is keeping up with (and not being confused by) the research. It’s not always easy to distinguish the good from the bad.

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  1. linda bell says:

    very good analysis of these trends – I have know these things for some time as i make a priority to be informed, however so many people still operate under belief systems they embraced years ago – fat is not the enemy sugar is in all its disguises! thanks!

  2. Sue Lange says:

    Right on!

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