Selection of healthy fat sources salmon, cashews, olive oil. avocado

The Truth About Dietary Fat

Contrary to popular belief, healthy fats do exist. As a primary macronutrient, alongside protein and carbohydrates, fat is an essential part of the human diet. Unfortunately, its pros are often overshadowed by its cons.

Historically, dietary fat has been linked to chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol. But in recent years, we’ve learned not all fats are created equal. Some are designed to actually help, not harm the body.

“We know now that we need some fat,” explained Grace Derocha, registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. “There’s fat-soluble vitamins that we need to have fat to help us absorb. Those vitamins [like] A, D, E and K … We also know that fat got a bad rap for a while.”

These days, fat is a welcome part of a heart healthy diet. The key is in the quality and type you consume. Unsaturated fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, are helpful in maintaining cardiovascular health. Target sources that are devoid of excess sugar, sodium, and other fillers.

On the latest episode of the A Healthier Michigan Podcast, hosted by Chuck Gaidica, he and Derocha explore the different types of healthy fat and where to find them.

So, where should you start? Derocha encourages the three fatty acids: omega-3, omega-6, and omega-9. They’re all beneficial to the body, but in varying degrees. “Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids … are the ones that our body does not create. So, we have to get those from dietary food and … some people will use supplements as well.”

Fish such as herring, sardines, mackerel, trout, and anchovies are a great source. But be mindful of the serving sizes. Derocha warns that Americans are consuming more omega-6 than necessary. “We use it a lot for cooking or processed cooking whether it be baked goods or when people dine out … processed baked goods or processed foods that are using omega-6 is where we get into trouble.”

Meanwhile, omega-9 fatty acids are easily found in nuts and oils. For example: almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans as well as olive, safflower and sunflower oil. But beware of hydrogenated oils. They are chemically processed and pumped full of additives to sustain a longer shelf life.

In general, healthy fats are an integral part of a balanced diet. Watch your portions and aim for natural sources. Don’t overindulge or restrict whole food groups. “With some of these diets … like the keto(genic) diet … that’s basically all fat, little bit of protein and almost zero carbs,” said Derocha.

“I think when people go on any diet …it has an end. You can’t live on bacon alone.”

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Photo credit: JulijaDmitrijeva

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