Thursday Thoughts: Fat

It's Thursday, so you know what that means...

Thursday Thoughts

If you are new to my blog, or just missed the past few Thursdays, this is a segment where I post my thoughts about various nutrition and health related topics, or maybe even something else if it is really an intriguing topic.  Most of my current views and opinions come from experience working as a dietitian and as college instructor in nutrition courses.  Most of that learning is science based or observational from the clinical setting.  In general, I hate overgeneralizations, so for many of the things I post, I expect there is one or two exceptions because broad sweeping generalizations are always bound to miss out on something. 

Today I want to talk about fat, and I am not referring to body fat.  Last week I talked about sugar, which I think is a misunderstood nutrient, so this week I want to look at fat, which is also a misunderstood nutrient.  I remember back in the 90's when fat was the "it" food for all of our problems.  Fat was the nutrient blamed for our problems and fad diets all over looked to cut out fat.  Food companies started introducing low fat and fat free foods.  But, was fat the real problem and are those fat free foods really a good idea?

Here are some of my thoughts on fat:

1) Not all fats are created equal.  The macronutrient known as fat, or lipid, comes in a few forms.  Some are actually good for you, while others are damaging to the heart.  Some people think fat is bad so cut it all out, but by doing this, they eliminate those heart healthy fats, AKA unsaturated fats.  The best advice is to know your fats.  Add in fats that have a protective effect on the heart, like nuts, seeds and most oils.  Eliminate those fats that promote heart disease, like butter, bacon and the fats in whole milk products.  Those are known as saturated fats.  The values for fats can be found on the food label.  Fats in general should make up 20-35% of the diet (that is based on percentage of calories), with saturated fat making up no more than 10% of the diet, however the American Heart Association has a stricter guideline of 7%, which is probably a good idea.

2) The dreaded trans fat comes to mind next.  One thing I hate is when people complain about the food industry and blame all of our problems on them.  While they are not 100% innocent, they are certainly not 100% to blame.  I do not think at the time they started hydrogenating our oils to make them more shelf stable the companies knew this would be extra bad for us.  I think changes in society and the role of women in the work place caused a shift in life as people knew it, and in turn there was a legitimate need for foods that lasted longer, especially when it was not as easy to grocery shop as often.  Again, these are my perceptions and based on some of my learning in school.  Research can only move so fast, so I do believe that there was no real way to let research go on for years and years until we knew more about trans fats and then decided if they should be in our food supply.  I do not think there was any way to predict this, but I am certainly glad that research was going on to catch this flaw in our food supply.  I am not an expert in trans fats because I am not an expert in chemistry, but as an expert in nutrition, it is clear to see that this was a bad result from a seemingly harmless and needed change to the food supply.  Now that we do know these are bad for us, it is important to check food labels and understand that if it says 0 gram trans fat this really means less than 0.5 grams.  Seeing as the last recommendation I heard was to stay below 2 grams per day (with none being the best), the small quantities in foods that look like they are trans fat free, can add up quickly.  The best advice is look at the ingredients for "partially hydrogenated".  Ok, the best advice is make all your food at home, but honestly, that is not realistic for most of us.

3) As I said before, some fats are good for you.  It is important to remember that even if something is good for you, it does not mean eating a lot will be good for you.  Too much fat, even the good kind, is going to be bad because fat is very calorie dense.  This means that each gram has 9 calories, and this is more than twice that of carbohydrate or protein.  Those have 4 per gram.  Anytime you have fat added to a food, the calories will add up quickly.  If you are trying to lose weight or actively maintaining your weight, you should pay attention to how much fat you consume.  This is where balance in the diet comes into play.  Fat in the diet should make up about 20-35%, with most people really wanting to aim for about 30%, depending on their other needs.  This means for a 1500 calorie diet, 30% would be 50 grams of fat.  Heart healthy snacks like nuts can add up fast.  So, it is good to eat these, but don't forget to watch the portion size.

4) Gallstones, gallstones, gallstones!  You may think I am going to mention the need for a low fat diet if you have gallstones, and while this is certainly true, that was not what I wanted to say.  Just the opposite actually.  See, the gallbladder is a storage unit for bile, which is produced in the liver.  Bile is released from the gall bladder in response to eating foods containing fat.  Without bile to break down dietary fat, malabsorption and GI distress can occur.  Using low fat diets can therefore lead to the formation of gallstones.  Without adequate fat at meals, the gallbladder does not get a chance to clear out the stored bile and sludge can form, which then leads to gallstone formation.  This is one of the major consequences of long term dieting on fad diets promoting low fat and very low fat diets.  I remember in my training for my weight loss certificate that it takes at least 10 grams (about) of fat to get the gallbladder to expel the bile.  This means that when following a low fat diet, it is best to have 3 meals daily with 10 (or more of course if this is within your needs) grams of fat to reduce the risk of gallstone formation.  Since for weight loss a dietitian may also encourage snacks 3 times daily, if a person wants no fat for a snack, that fits within a safe meal plan for weight loss.

5) When I first started this post, I mentioned fat, just like sugar gets a bad reputation and is often eliminated in fad diets.  I know I have said this before, but it really is up to each person to make their own food choices.  The best advice I have is to eat "regular" foods and just watch the portion size.  There is no need for special "diet" foods or low fat and fat free products.  However, if you like the taste, or it makes you feel fuller to get a little more of a product, then that is personal choice.  There are some things where I do like the lower fat version.  In the case of milk, I would never recommend whole milk for anyone over the age of 2 or in special conditions during adulthood.  I like some fat free snacks better than the originals so because I prefer the taste, I chose that food.  But, if I preferred the full fat version or "regular" food, I would eat that and just have a smaller portion.  When cooking at home, making your own recipes lower in fat is a good idea, which I support and encourage.  I am mostly referring her to the wave of packaged goods labelled as "diet".  Many times when fat is removed sugar is added and the calories wind up being the same.  I find this with some ice creams.  I will not mention the brand name, but their low fat ice cream and no sugar added ice cream have the same calories per serving, and this only differs by about 20 calories from the regular ice cream.  I guess the moral of the story here is follow your instincts and use your taste buds, but always read the label and do not let the front of the package fool you.

Thanks for listening to my thoughts again this week as I took on the topic of fat.  Like so many other nutrition topics, it is easy to get confused with the conflicting information present in the media and from our friends and family.  Reading up online is a good place to start, and it is very important to look for credible nutrition sources, but reading online can never replace actually meeting with a dietitian to discuss your personal needs and have them teach you about good nutrition from a science based standpoint that can be applied to the real world and your home.

QUESTION:  What are your thoughts on fat?


Special K said...

#4 was something I hadn't heard before...about the 10 grams of fat with bile expellation. Interesting new bit of information for me.
Fat doesn't make people FAT. Did you read the research on the eskimo diet that is primarily made of FAT? I know without a doubt that when I eat fat and protein in combination (cheese, nuts, fish) I feel more focused and powerful. Again, we are seeing that what makes people fat is their BRAIN. and DEPRIVATION.
My thoughts on the "obesity" epidemic, particularly for children, is that the more spiritually and emotionally exhausted you are, the more you are at risk for weight...
I also think that just like personality, there is this more diversity in SHAPES and SIZES than what we believe now.

Andrea@WellnessNotes said...

I really like your thoughts on fat. Great info. And yes, not all fat is created equal, and fat doesn't necessarily make us fat. I think one of the dangers of labeling things as "good" and "bad" is that people don't look closely enough at the food items. They assume that "fat free" is healthier because fat is "bad." Also, when it comes to "good fats," as you mentioned, it's so easy to forget about portion size because it's "good for me." I usually eat some walnuts with my oatmeal in the morning, and it's really easy to eat an extra hundred calories if I'm not careful...

Rachel said...

hey thanks for the tip on the Community Nutrition book. Who is the author? Thanks for the tip Melinda!!

Gina; The Candid RD said...

Wait...really?? I didn't know that about gallstones!! I seriously have never heard that before. It does make sense though. Very interesting.

I don't know if you get Nutrition Action Healthletter, but if you don't, you should. There was recently a great article about saturated fat and stiffening of the arteries ("aging of the arteries" was how they explained it). It was really fascinating.

You know my thoughts on fat, I love it!! In the form of peanut butter especially :)

chow and chatter said...

similar to yours LOL, love olive oil mono's and omega 3 so sorry about how your spices don't stay fresh there Rebecca

Jessie said...

Great topic, Melinda! One of the most common misconceptions I've found people have about food is that fat = evil, which is a holdover from the 90's low fat craze. It's hard for some people to move beyond that mentality, especially some of the older people I meet out in the community who have struggled with their weight all their lives. It's so important to distinguish between the fats to avoid and the fats to include (judiciously) in your diet.

Also, I second Gina's recommendation of the Nutrition Action Newsletter - the article about sat fats and arteries was great!

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