There is a lot of buzz these days about dietary fats: Which ones are healthy? Which ones should be avoided? Perhaps one of the most important questions is: What has changed? Researchers and health care professionals say their understanding of the human body, and what it takes to keep ourselves as healthy as possible, continues to evolve.

Because there is so much new information being disclosed, I am answering some typical questions coming from consumers about their fat consumption. This first part includes questions about the health benefits of oils. Part two will be about cooking with healthy oils.

  1. Why are we hearing so much about healthy fats lately?  The reason we are hearing so much about fats lately is because science is constantly changing, especially when it comes to dietary intake and its relationship to diseases.  Let’s face it: We’re all aging and heart disease is still the number one killer in the U.S.. There are many ways that dietary intake and physical activity can impact our health outcomes.
  2. Does the type of fat used for cooking really make a difference? Absolutely yes! We all know that lard isn’t good for anyone! However when it comes to health – and ask any chef about smoke points – making fat substitutions (when you can) can be good for one’s health.  Sometimes you can swap out butter and use oil. Most people assume olive oil is best, however, for many dishes the subtle olive flavor would not be desirable (such as baked goods and even some other recipes. Malaysian palm fruit oil is a great, flavor-neutral swap with amazing health benefits.
  3. Is it true that all tropical oils are bad for me? Not all tropical oils are bad. Often people think of coconut oil being the worst, but really in small amounts (and for certain recipes) – it is okay. Palm KERNEL oil has gotten a bad rep for many years; however Palm FRUIT oil is good for you. Funny how the oil from two different parts of the same plant can have diverse properties. Palm fruit oil is rich in beta carotene, tocotrienols and has a unique saturated fat/polyunsaturated fat ratio that actually helps to reduce cholesterol – while providing powerful antioxidants.
  4. I keep hearing that there’s a relationship between healthy fats and weight management. Can you explain what that is? We can agree that we do need fat in our diets. Fat, fiber and protein provide satiety – which is the feeling of fullness. Fat can help to regulate appetite by slowing down digestion so that you are not ravenously hungry right after a meal. In the 12 years that I’ve been an RD, the recommendations for fat intake have shifted from 20 to 30 percent of one’s dietary intake coming from fat – good fats.  By having some fat in the diet, one can cut their calories while eating foods that don’t leave them hungry,  which is often a challenge with most weight loss programs. Nuts are also a great way to get good fats into one’s diet. They can help to keep hunger pangs at bay.
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