Health Hub

by Robin Gaudette

The answer to this may just be somewhere in between. Fat, that has classically been the bad guy, may not be so bad after all.

That statement can’t be made without addressing fat misconceptions and what constitutes dietary balance. The diets popular now, ketogenic and Paleo, are based in higher fat intake, and the Mediterranean being a balance of fresh foods with larger amounts of healthy fats raise the question of “is fat intake bad or good?”

Hopefully you won’t be more confused about whether to make dietary changes after reading this piece.

What we know is bad

• Manufactured transfats found in margarine and packaged snack foods have overwhelming evidence linking consumption to heart disease. These man-made transfats are banned in foods beginning in 2018. Transfats seen on labels as partially hydrogenated oils, are no longer deemed to be safe. Trans fats are naturally occurring in some meats and dairy products. At this time, we are not sure if these are as harmful as their manufactured cousin.

• Despite its recent popularity, saturated fat intake is still a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Replacing saturated fats with poly-unsaturated fats — walnut, flax and fatty fish — is protective.

What we know to be true

• Fat is essential for satiety. Physiologically, when fat enters the small intestine, a signal is sent to hormones that work to reduce the appetite. Fat also adds and enhances flavors in food. To make a product low-fat or no-fat, something has to replace that nutrient in space as well as flavor. Many times this change comes in an increase in sugar or carbohydrates. Some vitamins and minerals need a certain amount of fat present to do their job. For instance, choosing a fat-free salad dressing may hinder the absorption of the fat-soluble antioxidants present in veggies. It is still an accepted statement that any type of calories in excess will cause weight gain.

• The new Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 advise limiting saturated fat to less than 10 percent of total calories.

• Experts are concerned with the balance between the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-6 is essential to consume because the body can’t manufacture it. Many processed products made with cheap vegetable oils contain high amounts of omega-6 compared to omega-3. The best way to add this fatty acid is whole foods rich in omega-6, such as sesame seeds or grapeseed oil.

What we may not be sure about but have a pretty good idea

• Manufacturing products to remove a key ingredient means another product must be added to replace what is removed. The addition of emulsifiers to some processed foods disturbs the microbiome of the body impacting health and possible weight loss. The microbiome is the body’s natural bacterial environment needed for digestion, bacterial defense and to produce vitamins.

• Coconut oil is extremely popular oil in diets now and has been called a superfood. Researchers have no solid evidence that it can reduce cardiovascular disease. Coconut oil contains a modest amount of medium-chain triglycerides which proponents say can improve weight loss. The body prefers to burn MCTs for fuel versus store it for fat, but the amounts used in the studies regarding weight loss are far more than most people should consume in amount and percentage of nutrients.

What I can suggest

“Lack of harm is not the same thing as being good for you,” says David Katz, MD, founder of True Health Initiative. Focus on eating whole foods, as the Mediterranean diet offers. Choose healthy, whole, fresh foods; healthy carbohydrates and healthy fats, while staying away from processed foods.

Don’t exclude any one food group rather choose the healthier alternatives they offer. Attempt to increase omega-3 fatty acid consumption by adding walnuts, flax, chia, hemp seeds and fatty fish and, in small amounts, grass-fed beef and dairy.

— Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at .