Dear Dr. Michelle,
I want to give my family a healthful diet but I am not sure of what is good nutrition. I am very confused about the subject of Fat. I just do not understand which fats I should be giving my family to eat. What is unsaturated fat, what is saturated fat, and what is trans-fat? Do you think that we should all be on a low fat diet? Could you please explain?
Concerned MomDear Mom,
High fat diets and lack of exercise have been shown to be contributing factors to the obesity epidemic in the U.S. About ten years ago, the experts started recommending that Americans try to eat a diet that is very limited in all fats. They thought that this would cause us to eat fewer calories in total. High sugar, low fat snack products were made by many manufacturers in an effort to capture the snack food market. The results were terrible! While restricting their fat intake, people starting eating more and more sugar and starch. The obesity epidemic got much worse! The experts recently changed their advice. They now differentiate different kinds of starches and fats. They now recommend that we eat a traditional balanced diet which includes starches, sugars and fat in reasonable amounts—but only the good ones.
Here are the basic guidelines:
The diet should be full of unprocessed foods. Vegetables and fruits, nuts and legumes such as peanuts and beans, and whole grains are all good. The starches should be high fiber grains and legumes and vegetables. The sugars should be mostly the ones already found in the food such as fruits and sweet potatoes. Added sugars are OK but not in excess. It is important to know that growing children need plenty of fats in their diets because growth requires a lot of calories and fat has double the amount of calories found in proteins and carbohydrates. Because toddlers don’t eat a lot at a meal they need a higher percentage of fat in their diets to get enough caloric energy to grow on.
The fats should be mostly unsaturated fats such as avocado, canola oil, olive oil, nut oils (not palm oil). Oils found in fish are also usually unsaturated. Most vegetable oils such as corn oil, are OK, but not as beneficial as the unsaturated oils. Peanut oil is OK but there is a problem with processed peanut butter. In commercial peanut butters, the peanut protein is used, but the peanut oil is extracted and replaced with trans-fats which makes the product creamier and keeps it from separating. For this reason, natural style peanut butter which has to be mixed and refrigerated is a much better choice.
The fats naturally found in meats, poultry and dairy products are saturated fats. They should be restricted by eating mostly leaner cuts and low fat milk products. Moderate amounts of these are OK in a healthy diet. The fats found in most packaged treats and snacks are often “bad fats.” These are trans-fats. They were invented by chemists about 100 years ago. The first one was Crisco. This adulterated vegetable oil is used commercially. It makes food taste better and last longer on the shelf.
Most margarines, cookies and crackers, chips and fried foods like French fries and even fish sticks usually have trans-fats. They are listed on the labels as “partially hydrogenated soy or vegetable oil,” “vegetable shortening” and trans fatty acids. Trans-fats are known to cause heart disease by increasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and decreasing HDL (good cholesterol). Since the American population is so used to eating packaged products and fast foods, the experts think trans-fats may be making people both fat and sick. There is no amount of trans-fat that is good. Many state and local governments are passing laws to eliminate trans-fats from restaurant foods.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that we should all be eating mostly plain foods that are not processed as fast or snack foods. It has always been my feeling that if we restrict candy, cake and chips and eat them only on special occasions we would all consume a better diet and we would enjoy the junk more as part of a birthday party treat!
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