The Low-Down on Healthy Fats

Why fat isn't so bad (in fact, it could be good)

The Low-Down on Healthy FatsPoor fat. We avoid it like the plague, thinking that the more of it we eat, the worse our health will be, and the bigger our waistlines will get. It just has such a bad reputation. But what if we have fat all wrong? Or, at least, what if we have some of fat wrong? There’s a growing number of people who believe that just might be the case.

“It’s only in the last 30 years that fat has become a four-letter word,” says author and chef Jennifer McLagan, whose latest book is Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. “Before the turn of the last century, if you were a bit plump, it was a sign of prosperity and wealth, but now it seems you can never be too skinny.”

We need fat to live: our brains need it, our bodies need it, and heck, it just tastes really, really good. But as we know, not all fats are created equal. Though there is still some debate over the benefits of saturated fats from animals, there is consensus over two things: there is no room in the human diet for man-made fats like trans fats, and we really need to be getting a lot more omega-3s.

Dr. Alan Logan, a naturopathic doctor, invited faculty member at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Continuing Education and author of The Brain Diet and The Clear Skin Diet, explains, “For optimal health we need omega-6 and we need omega-3. We’re already getting enough 6 — the emphasis in a lot of research today is to get omega-3 levels up and getting the omega-6 levels down.”

When everyone turned on butter and lard in the 1950s, we all opted for vegetable oils, which are chock full of omega-6, but didn’t increase our omega-3 intake. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, according to Dr. Logan, is 2:1, but we are currently consuming about 10:1.

Again and again, research has shown that omega-3s are good for mood and health on many levels. “There’s a common thread between every chronic brain, skin and women’s health issue,” says Dr. Logan, “and that’s inflammation. Inflammation is promoted by stress, inappropriate eating and so on, and omega-3s can keep it in check.” There have even been preliminary studies that suggest a positive impact on kids with learning disorders. “It would be overstating the case to say that omega-3s are going to clear away every case of childhood learning disorders, but there is some encouraging research.”

“Animal rearing practices have led us to where we are,” says Dr. Logan. “Because the animals are being fed grain and corn rather than being allowed to hunt and peck and eat what’s there, there are fewer omega-3s in the meat we’re consuming.”

So, with the word getting out, it looks like fat stands to make a comeback. “We should definitely be avoiding hydrogenated fats and trans fats,” says McLagan. “But I’m hopeful there’s a good future for fat. I think now with local, organic, nose-to-tail eating, if we’re going to kill the animal and eat the meat, we should be eating the fat too.”

This isn’t a green light to go ahead and gobble vats of confit: all of this is underlined, always, by moderation.

omega-3s: how and how much?
Dr. Logan advises on and how much EPA and DHA, two key omega-3s, you should be getting each day.

Children: 300 mg DHA
Adults: 650 mg combined EPA and DHA
Pregnant/breastfeeding women: 300 mg DHA

Great sources of omega-3s

  • Wild salmon (fresh or canned)
  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel
  • Walnuts
  • Canola oil
  • Olive oil
  • Flax
  • Supplements (fish oil or algae)

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