Separating Fats from Fiction
The other day I was cleaning out a file cabinet in which I found an old magazine. While flipping through the pages, I noticed a story in which I described strategies for weight loss. Some of the basic messages would have been the same if that reporter called me today: “Eat more fruits and veggies,” “Avoid portion distortion,” “Don’t eat while watching TV,” and so on.
But one soundbite that was mentioned by another expert in this piece was not exactly a sound bite for today’s science. “Eat fat-free foods and avoid most fats” was recommended then. Now we know that certain fats are not only healthy for us, but they are also satiating by keeping us feeling fuller longer. Including healthy fats in the right amounts can promote weight loss, not hinder it.
Sadly, even though countless studies have shown the benefits of foods containing healthy fats like avocados, nuts, and vegetable oils, we still seem to be a fat phobic nation of confused consumers. In fact, in the 2015 Food & Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation, only slightly more people viewed mono- and polyunsaturated fats as healthful (17%) compared to trans fats (11%). This lack of knowledge of health benefits associated with certain types of fats may be playing out in consumer behaviors. The IFIC Foundation survey pointed out that 30% of respondents said they were avoiding heart-smart mono- and polyunsaturated fats, while only 7% said they tried to consume them.
And it’s not just consumers who are having a hard time with separating fats from fiction. Some food companies still include trans fats in their products owing to the difficulty they face in processing when attempting to swap one fat for another.
The potato industry, on the other hand, has made great strides to virtually eliminate trans fats from French fries and other processed potatoes without increasing saturated fats. Contrary to sensational media headlines, the oils used to cook French fried potatoes, including those served in quick service restaurants, are now predominantly trans fat-free. The all-vegetable oils used contain primarily mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Although there are numerous considerations in the production and use of fats and oils, fat is an integral component of the diet. Its use, along with foods we commonly consume like potatoes, can enhance satiety and stabilize blood glucose levels. Consumption of such foods in controlled portions can not only help us enjoy the taste of food, but we can simultaneously obtain many essential nutrients that we fall short of, such as the potassium and dietary fiber in potatoes. In addition, the latest consumption data from NHANES 2009-2010 found that processed potatoes are not a significant source of saturated or trans fats in the diets of Americans of all ages.
The bottom line is that some of the right types of fat are good for us—just not too much—and avoiding healthy fats is not sound advice. But the rest of the advice from that old magazine story still rings true.