Juggling Fat

June 27, 2017 in Cooking & Baking Hints, Foodland, Health by Joyce Bunderson

If you’ve seen a big giggly chunk of animal fat, you know that the thought of juggling fat sounds like a difficult task. Seriously, I realize that you don’t want to juggle fat (and neither do I); but I do want to help you balance the types of fat in your diet. In addition, I would like to help ensure that you realize that fats have an essential role in our health. So the point is that we don’t want to consume too much, but we do want to include foods with good sources of helpful fats. It might seem like a bit of a juggling act when you first set out on a quest to improve the fats in your diet.

According to a recent survey, 64% of Americans still believe that dietary fat is their enemy. It seems to take a long time to repair a public health error. (The error is called the low-fat era; in the 1980s and 1990s foods traditionally high in fat were remade differently to avoid fats, any kind of fats. They we reconstructed to be high in processed carbohydrates and sugar, replacing fat.) By now most of you know that the problem was misdiagnosed and the solution was often worse than the original problem. The real and serious problem was really trans fat and saturated fat, not dietary cholesterol or fat in general. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans reflects what the researchers learned and contains changes about the intake of dietary fats.

The fact is that fats have an essential role in our health; they help us to feel full – satisfied, for longer than carbohydrates and even protein. Fats are involved in keeping our skin, nerves and hair healthy. And of course, fat is also involved in the absorption and metabolism of vitamins (the so-called fat-soluble vitamins.) Fat also insulates the body to keep the organs safe and to help us stay warm in cold weather. Fat has roles in many diverse functions of the body, including controlling inflammation, blood clotting and brain development.

So, it’s true we need to eat fat to be optimally healthy. But if we are an average American, we need to consider the type of fat in our diet. One of the goals of the Dietary Guidelines is to shift our intake away from solid fats (meat, cheese, butter, stick margarine, shortening, lard, and coconut oil) toward oils (seeds, nuts, seafood, olive oil, and vegetable oil). The more saturated fatty acids (fatty acids are the components of fats) that are in a fat, the more solid it is at room temperature.

All age groups of both men and women are exceeding the maximum limit for the ideal amount of saturated fats. These are, of course, averages; not individuals. I know some of you out there in cyber land are doing a great job of eating toward the healthy goal -- 10 percent or less of your calories from saturated fats. It’s not an easy change; but if you start with reducing meats and cheese; then reduce your intake of the mixed foods (pizza, burgers, sandwiches, casseroles) that are so often loaded with meats and cheese; and finally don’t forget coconut oil, and butter, you will have a great place to start. Once you’ve looked at those, you can continue by learning what your gravies, salad dressings, condiments and spreads are made with.

If you’re just beginning to learn about which fats and oils have more saturated fatty acids, take a look at the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Figure 1-2; Fatty Acid Profiles of Common Fats and oils. What a super-wonderful visual to help everyone learn where the saturated fat is covertly hiding. The fatty acids depicted in a rusty orange color, are the ones that we need to switch out for the orange or yellow (mono and poly unsaturated). When you look at the two-part chart it makes it very clear that the fats solid at room temperature – aka solid fats, are the ones to switch out first.

If you, didn’t get a chance to read my blog last week, June 20, 2017, Coconut Oil – On Your Body, Not in It; the Dietary Guidelines chart is a visual to help you see why ‘on your body, not in it.’ Palm kernel oil is the dietary fat with the second highest amount of saturated fatty acids; second only to coconut oil. We generally see palm kernel oil in processed foods; people don’t usually cook with palm kernel oil. Frequently it is in a list; surrounded by healthy oil options. The ingredient list says something like this: May contain one of the following (then one of the options is palm kernel oil or coconut oil). Whenever I see that, I say to myself; “If it may, it probably does, because palm kernel oil, like coconut oil is so saturated that it is solid at room temperature. In addition, both coconut oil and palm kernel oil can sit on a shelf for a really long period of time without becoming rancid; unfortunately, they can also wreak havoc in your arteries. The shelf stability time is a big motivator for the food processors. They’re cheap and the shelf life is just short of eternity.

If, like me, you are trying to keep the monounsaturated fats up in your diet; then you’ll notice that olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower oil, peanut, sesame, safflower oil and canola oil all can accomplish that goal without giving you a load of saturated fat. I like avocado and canola oils if I’m doing something at a higher temperature; my extra virgin olive oil has too low of a smoke point (smokes if the pan or oven gets too hot.)

The following are strategies to reduce saturated fats to less than 10 percent of calories and replace it with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats:

  • Shift to low-fat or fat-free milk from whole or 2 percent milk
  • Try some of the reduced fat cheeses; string cheese, for example.
  • Use a strong tasting cheese in a recipe, but less of it; Parmesan for example.
  • Try leaner cuts of meat. Stir-fry, sautéed dishes and casseroles are good options for leaner cuts of meat.
  • Choose fatter cuts less frequently and watch portion size.
  • Try some meat-free meals; consider using tofu, mushrooms, nuts, beans, or eggs.
  • Substitute non-fat Greek yogurt for sour cream.
  • Replace 1/3 to 1/2 of the butter in baked good recipes with vegetable oil (Not coconut; palm; or palm kernel.)
  • Use avocado for a spread instead of cream cheese or butter. Also, avocado is a nice base for making dressing for your salad. I mix it with diced hard-boiled eggs, non-fat Greek yogurt and tuna for a salad dressing/topping.
  • When snack time rolls around, think of nuts, cherry tomatoes, hummus and any type of veggies or fruit. If you’re replacing chips, crackers, granola bars, cake, pie and cookies, you’ll be lowering your saturated fat intake.
  • Be careful with your meat/cheese portions.
  • Try fish burgers, salmon burgers, or bean burgers, instead of beef burgers. It’s an easy way to reduce the saturated fat.
  • Try nuts on your salad instead of saturated fat-laden croutons.
  • If you’re looking to make your snack hold you till the next meal, consider peanuts, tree nuts, and/or sunflower seeds. They are high in healthy fatty acids, and protein. They can help you knock down hunger for a long time.
  • Of the biggest areas that offer an opportunity to look for a change are in the mixed dish food category. For example, casseroles (rice and pasta dishes), burgers, pizza, burritos, and tacos. These foods are often heavily laden with meat and cheese.
  • Snacks and sweets are another area that provides much of the saturated fats in the current diet of many Americans. Some examples are French fries, chips, pie, cakes, cookies, and candy.
  • It’s not just what to reduce; but also what type of fatty acids to increase. Don’t forget that fatty fish is a wonderful source of omega 3s, which have a special protective role. Some of the most common fish (Salmon, halibut, and tuna) are among the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. One of the benefits of omega 3s is that it may reduce the problems of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders.
  • I’ve mentioned sweets, but have not said too much. Although, most people are thinking about the sugar in desserts and treats, saturated fat is another reason to think twice about the frequency and amount of sweets in the diet. If you’re buying the cookies/doughnuts/cakes/candies and so on, then check the wrapper. You can see the amount of saturated fat on the nutrition label. If it comes from the bakery, know that the flakiest baklava or piecrust; the moistest brownies, and the most decadent éclairs and crème puffs are saturated fat bombs.

So that’s a list of strategies to help you improve your fatty acid intake, if needed. While fat is a good and necessary part of healthy eating, don’t forget that fat has 9 calories per gram, with more than twice as much as either protein (4 calories per gram) or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram). Ultimately, the goal is to juggle your fat intake. Consume enough to keep yourself healthy and satisfied for sufficient hours to the next meal; without gaining weight. Also, try to make it a goal to have less than 10 percent of the calories of your diet come from saturated fat; your health may give you a thank you for achieving that goal. That juggling may sound difficult, but probably not as difficult as the metaphor would suggest.