For several years there has been what seems to be a fight among those who offer nutritional advice. I can remember back in the early 90’s when I first began to pay attention to nutrition with an eye on changing the way I ate. Up to that point I just put into my mouth what I wanted at the time and was oblivious to the mayhem I was creating with my nutritional chaos.
Enter the scene one rambunctious and over the top diet guru – Susan Powter. Now some of you may remember her from her infomercial:
And some of you may have even purchased her book : Stop the Insanity.
As I recall, her main claim to fame was having 1/2 inch long shock white hair and an exuberant personality. Basically, Susan’s nutritional point was that it was the fat in our diets that was making us fat and that we needed to do was stop eating so much fat and get up and exercise.
She was in her own frenetic way somewhat right about part of her advice. We do need to get up and exercise, however there is a lot of debate as to what constitutes ‘too much dietary fat’. Recent evidence points to a definite negative health issue when we consume too little fat and there are some diets that promote high amounts of fat to control issues such as epilepsy (read more here about Ketogenic Diet – Natural treatment for Epilepsy and other disorders).
Suffice it to say that pointing the finger at one part of our protein/carbohydrate/fat triad and blaming it for our body fat issues is missing a much bigger picture. Even the advice about the types of fats we eat has changed recently based on new scientific information.
For many years we have been warned away from saturated fats, the types of fats found in meats and cheeses. These fats were implicated in heart disease and other physical ailments. That changed when the data was really tallied and now saturated fats are touted as having a proper place in a healthy diet. (Check out The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet)
There is one consensus of thought about what fats to avoid and no one has changed their mind on the dangers of trans fats. Trans fats are what you get when you use an industrial process to add hydrogen to vegetable oil in order to make it harder at room temperature. If you are envisioning Crisco shortening then you are thinking about a trans fat. Trans fats are very uncommon in nature. They are not as easy to produce as one might think. One myth is that you can make a trans fat just by heating cooking oil. In reality you would need a tank of hydrogen, a closed container to make a sufficient vacuum, a catalyst and heat. Seldom are these things found in a standard kitchen.
Cooking with heat can damage highly polyunsaturated oils if we use a heat too high for these fragile oils. What results from overheating these oils is a polymerized oil which is high in free radicals – something we want to avoid. Cooking with the appropriate oil for the heat used is a practice we all should adopt. The oils best for high heat include olive oil, coconut and palm oil as well as animal fats.
Insufficient fat in our diet can lead to poor fat soluble vitamin absorption, depression, increased risk of cancer, high cholesterol and heart disease as well as probably cause us to feel greater hunger and thus overeat. How much is too little? Well standard dietary guidelines suggest we keep our fat between 20 – 35% of our total calories which for a 2000 calorie diet would be between 44 to 78 grams of fat per day. There are some reasons a person would go below that ideal, but not too far below and not for extended periods of time. There are also good reasons for some people to be above the suggested level as depicted in the ketogenic diet book. For most of us, staying within the suggested amounts will keep us just where we want to be. Healthy and happy.
Remember, this discussion is not intended to diagnose or suggest treatments for any disease issues. Consult with your doctor or nutrition expert as to what eating plan would be best for your situation.