When it comes to nutrition, fats have earned a bad reputation, but they aren’t all bad for us! Current nutrition science associates certain fat types with optimal nutrition and healthy weight, but how do we identify which fats are good or bad?
March is National Nutrition Month, and we’re dedicating time this month to answer that question for diners. We’re teaching diners how to recognize healthy fat choices and encouraging them to try healthy fat options on our menus.
Why We Need Fats
In short, our bodies need to consume fats to absorb certain nutrients. They provide our bodies with what scientists call “essential fatty acids.” Like the name would indicate, these fatty acids are essential to normal body function, but we can’t produce them ourselves. Our bodies need these compounds to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, and vitamin E.
Essential fatty acids are vital to important bodily functions like moving muscles, encouraging blood clotting when you’re injured, storing energy, helping our cells communicate, and maintaining cell membrane structures.
Consuming the right fats in the right amounts can not only improve body function but brain function and mental health as well. And as counter-intuitive as it may seem, eating fats won’t necessarily make you gain weight! In fact, including fat in your diet can add greater flavor to the foods you eat and help you feel full longer. Moderation is key when including fats in our meals, as well as consuming the right types of fats.
Eating the Right Kinds of Fats
Not all fats are created equal, and not all of them are healthy! There are two major categories: saturated fat (the “bad” kind) and unsaturated fat (the “good” kind). Some saturated fats, called trans fats, are actually banned in the United States. Saturated fat consumption can increase total cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. On the other hand, unsaturated fats can reduce LDL blood cholesterol and lower triglycerides, which is the fat your body stores.
Luckily, it’s surprisingly easy to tell the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats! Because of their chemical structures, saturated fats are solid at room temperature (like butter) and unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature (like olive oil). Just remember that, while fats are important, they’re far from the central focus of every meal. In Creative Dining menuing, we prioritize meals with a plant-centric focus, finding ways to work fats in with other important nutrients for well-balanced, health-promoting dining.
Healthy Ways to Integrate Fats
So we’ve established that some fat is necessary to a healthy diet, but how do you choose a healthy fat and integrate it into your daily meals? Well, below we have some tips for you to do just that.
Do “Nut” Overlook Nuts
Whether you’re a fan of almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, or pecans, nuts are a great way to integrate healthy fat into your diet. They’re packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which promote normal brain and nervous system functioning. It’s literally brain food! Nuts also contain protein, fiber, vitamin E, plant sterols, and other great nutrients.
Dark Chocolate for the Win
Here’s some good news: dark chocolate is loaded with healthy fat! Approximately 60% of the calories in dark chocolate are from good fats, and that’s not the only benefit. Dark chocolate, citrus, and berries are all great sources of antioxidants that protect healthy cells from damage from “free radicals” and aid in maintaining your immune system. These antioxidants can counteract oxidative stress and free-radical formation before they can attack healthy cells. So, enjoy your chocolate — the darker the better.
Upgrade Your Oils
If you like using oils when cooking, make sure you’re choosing healthy options! Olive, flaxseed, canola, or sesame oil are great for a variety of applications. Try choosing one and mixing it with vinegar and herbs for a flavorful homemade dressing. Find a high-quality unsaturated oil to suit your taste and roll with it!
Take a Swim With Seafood
According to the World Wildlife Fund, “salmon consumption worldwide is three times higher than it was in 1980.” Seeing as salmon is rich in omega-3s, its popularity certainly isn’t without reason! If salmon isn’t to your liking, give tuna, anchovies, mackerel, or herring a try. Whether they’re baked, poached, or grilled, you’ll “sea” why seafood is a popular choice for healthy fats.
There are a wide variety of ways to integrate healthy fats into your diet, and it all starts with being able to identify them. Remember, it isn’t about choosing low-fat foods. Healthy fats are a great way to enhance the tastiness of your food, but they’re also a vital part of a well-balanced diet that helps your body work the way it’s supposed to. Give these tips a try the next time you want to add healthy fat to your meal!
Interested in learning more about our focus on balanced menuing? Check out our page dedicated to supporting full-body wellness through food!