If you’ve cut fat out of your diet to try to improve your health, you’ve got it all wrong, experts say. There are plenty of sources of healthy fats that can help you feel full, lower your blood pressure and fight against heart disease.
“Fats are important to our diets and there are better fats we want to include,” Carol Dombrow, a Heart and Stroke Foundation dietitian with more than 25 years of experience, told Global News.
“People are still avoiding fat at all costs but evidence is coming out that suggests not all fats are as bad as we thought. What’s most important is the overall diet and where the sources of fat are coming from because fat from an avocado on toast is different from the fat you’re getting from a donut,” according to Kate Comeau, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians of Canada.
Comeau says Canadians should aim for about 20 to 30 per cent of their daily caloric intake to come from fats.
The experts explain why fats are vital to our diets and how to make sure we’re reaching for the best choices while preparing meals.
Why do we need fat in our diet?
For starters, fat provides energy to our bodies — that’s why we eat, we need calories to carry out our daily functions, Comeau said.
Our bodies can’t make everything we need, too. We turn to food to get vitamins and minerals our bodies don’t provide, such as fatty acids like omega-3s and omega-6s.
It also helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which we can’t break down on our own.
There are a string of health benefits when you’re relying on healthy fats, too.
Monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fats — typically found in oils and plant-based foods — help with blood cholesterol levels, which decrease the risk of heart disease. They can also help with managing insulin levels, slow the buildup of plaque in blood vessels and curb inflammation.
Omega-3 fatty acids help with reducing the symptoms of depression and ADHD, they’ve been tied to protecting against memory loss and dementia, and they also help with lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer. Pregnant women are even encouraged to take omega-3 vitamins for their growing babies.
Let’s not forget: fats are filling, too. They leave you feeling more satiated and satisfied with your meal.
And they’re tasty, adding a flavour punch to your meals when used wisely.
What are examples of foods with healthy fats?
Nuts and seeds
The experts listed walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and sunflower seeds as key examples in this category.
An ounce of unsalted nuts a day — that’s about 22 almonds — eaten four times a week could cut the risk of heart disease by 37 per cent, according to Dombrow.
They’re packed with omega 3s, fibre, good plant phenols and other health-promoting compounds, such as flavonoids that protect blood vessels, the experts say. Nuts also help with brain health, skin, nails and hair.
Comeau suggests Canadians should reach for a handful of mixed nuts. Nuts come with different profiles when it comes to vitamins and minerals, and they have different flavours, too.
You shouldn’t be eating salted nuts, but they shouldn’t be coated in chocolate or candy either. But overall, most preparations are fair game, including nut butters.
Top them on salads or pair them with fruit for a snack, the experts say.
Oils have been villainized across the board, but the experts chalk this up to a misunderstanding.
“What has happened is that we always talked about saturated fat being bad and one way to get around saturated fat was to eat less fat altogether. It was dumbing it down to some extent to make it easy for the consumer to figure out what to eat,” Dombrow explained.
There are a handful of oils that are great tools to work with in the kitchen: cold-pressured oils, such as extra virgin olive oil, are rich in monounsaturated fats.
Dombrow turns to other oils, too: canola, soy, flaxseed, peanut, safflower, sunflower and corn.
You’re much better off making your own salad dressing with olive oil, lemon and Dijon mustard, with salt and pepper, for example, than using a fat-free salad dressing that doesn’t have any healthy fats and relies on sugars and emulsifiers, the experts say.
One to two tablespoons of healthy oils is more than sufficient daily, Dombrow says.
Fish is high in protein, low in saturated fat and a great source of omega 3 fatty acids. Experts call for at least two servings of fish each week. A serving is about 3.5 ounces or the size of a chequebook.
Fatty fish options include salmon, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines and albacore tuna.
Vegetables, fruit and legumes
Avocados are the only fruit that come to mind for the experts when it comes to healthy fats. They’re packed with monounsaturated fat.
Leafy green vegetables, such as spinach, kale and Brussel sprouts, have their share of healthy fats but at much lower levels.
Soybeans, like edamame, and tofu, are also great options if you’re looking for non-meat options.
(Ben Simpson/Global News)