Let’s face it: Some of the most delicious foods on the planet have fat in them. But you don’t have to fear throwing your favorite foods in the trash, because fats are an essential part of any well-balanced diet. Marketing geniuses have found ways to peddle low-fat or fat-free foods to us as the healthy alternatives to foods high in fat, but more and more studies are debunking these outdated ideas. Consumers are becoming more aware that whole foods—including some fats—are the best kinds.
Before you give up avocado toast, nut butters and coconut oil, read on to find out what fat facts are actually myths.
Myth: There are two types of fat: healthy vs. unhealthy
The old belief was very black and white: There are saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Good vs bad. The reality is there are many categories of fat, ranging from very necessary for healthy living to “just OK” to virtually poison.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
Unsaturated fats, whether mono or poly, are the best types of fats to eat. Monounsaturated fats include seeds, olive oil and avocado. Polyunsaturated fats are essential to a balanced diet because they are high in Omega-3s, which our bodies don’t naturally produce. These include items like flax seeds and fish.
These types of fats were always thought of as bad fats, but according to more recent studies, they might fall into the “just OK” category. Not great for you, but not as bad as previously thought.
When an otherwise healthy fat turns into a trans fat, it is because a food producer tried to extend the shelf life of the oil and/or solidify the oil by adding hydrogen. On the labels of these foods you’ll see them called partially hydrogenated oil. The most common forms are items like margarine or processed snack foods. Basically, they are processed foods rather than whole foods.
Myth: Saturated fat increases your risk for heart disease
These types of fats are the most controversial. Many beloved foods, like beef, cheese and coconut oil, fall into this category. Where it was previously believed that saturated fats should be avoided, some more recent studies suggest there is not a direct link between saturated fats and heart disease. According to research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health, things get tricky when saturated fats are cut out of the diet and replaced with refined carbohydrates. A diet with too many refined carbs can cause insulin spikes and lower the good cholesterol that is essential for heart health. Harvard researchers suggest that if you’re going to reduce your intake of saturated fats, you still need to replace it with unsaturated fats. More and more studies are showing that the real culprit to watch out for is trans fats.
Myth: 0g trans fat on the label is OK
The FDA has officially declared that trans fats, or partially hydrogenated oils, are not safe to consume. They are a proven link to heart and cardiovascular diseases. You may think you’re avoiding them if a label states that it contains 0g trans fat, but at the moment, foods are allowed to declare 0g trans fat if they contain less than 0.5g per serving. You can unknowingly be ingesting trans fat, even though it’s at small levels. The FDA has given companies until 2018 to complete remove all partially hydrogenated oils from food in the U.S.
Myth: Low-fat or non-fat foods are better for you
Eating healthy fats is proven to keep you feeling full for longer lengths of time, and as a result, you avoid binging on unhealthy sugars or other cravings. In fact, a new Harvard study shows a direct correlation between a diet high in healthy fats and a lower mortality rate. However, there are many people out there who still believe that processed, low-fat and reduced-calorie items are a healthier choice. Food psychologists at Cornell University have found that people who eat low- or non-fat foods have a tendency to eat more than those who eat whole foods, because they think the lower in calories, the better it is for you. Low- or non-fat labels can actually trick people into eating more than they normally would.
Myth: Dairy products are full of fat and should be avoided
Great news, cheese lovers. This is a total myth. Sure, fatty foods like cheese should be enjoyed in moderation, but they don’t need to be cut out of your diet entirely. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found that dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt can lower blood glucose levels, blood pressure and even body weight.
Myth: You can eat as much ‘healthy fat’ as you want
While you are welcome to indulge in that delicious avocado toast, because avocado is indeed a healthy fat, calories are still important in any well-balanced diet. The bottom line is: Everything in moderation. The American Heart Association recommends limiting your total fat, preferably unsaturated fats, to 20-35 percent of your daily total caloric intake each day.