With such a high volume of conflicting (and largely inaccurate) nutritional information out in the public domain, it's not surprising that we're pretty confused about WTF is actually good for us, and dietary fat is a good example.
After YEARS of research claiming that fat, especially saturated fat, was the main cause of heart disease and lead to weight gain, we shunned it in favor of sugar-laden "fat free" products. The result? Higher rates of obesity, which many leading health experts equated to our increased intake of carbohydrates and sugar; a consequence of this fat-free craze. They claimed that the anti-fat movement had come off the back of poor evidence and so last year came a giant dietary U-turn. Dietary fat, according to new large studies, isn't so bad after all.
Utterly confused? Us too. Time to dispel some of the myths about fat!
1. MYTH: EATING FAT WILL MAKE YOU FAT.
If you're tying to lose weight, shunning fat from your diet is NOT the best approach. Why? Because when we cut out fat, we tend to opt for carby alternatives and low-fat foods that are actually packed with sugar. And it's these foods that when eaten in excess will lead to weight gain. Fat is also very filling, which means ultimately by including a healthy amount of fat in your diet you are likely to eat less food overall. Dietary fat also helps to boost the metabolism and our body's ability to burn body fat; that's right, we need to eat fat to burn fat!
2. MYTH: CHOOSING LOW-FAT ALTERNATIVES ARE THE HEALTHIER OPTION.
A "low fat" claim on a label does NOT mean it's healthy. In fact, it can actually mean the opposite. The simple fact is that fat makes food taste good and gives it texture, and if you remove it from a food, it needs to be replaced by something else. Sugar, artificial sweeteners, thickeners, and flavorings are all used by food manufacturers in low-fat or fat-free products.
3. MYTH: SATURATED FATS ARE "BAD" AND SHOULD BE AVOIDED.
The terms "good" and "bad" fat is very common, but it oversimplifies things. The term "saturated fats" refers to an entire group of fats, and while some are actually considered extremely beneficial for health, others are less so. Current advice states that saturated fats in their natural form in meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and coconut oil can be consumed healthily in moderation. The fats that should be avoided are the "trans fats" (otherwise known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats) found in deep-fried foods and many processed foods, bakery products, and margarines. These heat-modified and industrially-modified fats have zero nutritional value, and have been shown to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic diseases.
4. MYTH: EATING A FATTY DIET CAN CAUSE BAD SKIN.
We now know that not all fats are created equal, and this is very relevant when it comes to keeping skin soft, glowing, and blemish free. Omega 3 fats found in oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, trout), nuts, and seeds support the oil-producing glands in the skin, helping to keep it moisturised from the inside out. These fats are also anti-inflammatory in the body, and can help to visibly reduce inflammatory skin conditions such as acne and psoriasis. The fats found in avocados and olive oil also help to keep the skin soft and supple by retaining water levels and hydrating the skin. For problematic skin, the fats to avoid are (again!) the processed trans fats, which are pro-inflammatory; along with sugar, they are the skin's absolute worst enemies.
5. MYTH: EATING A LOW FAT DIET IS BETTER FOR OVERALL HEALTH.
Fat has a crucial role in the health of our entire body. It provides us with a good source of energy, and is an essential building block for every single cell in the body. Eating fat is also vital for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K; we can't use these vitamins without it. We need fat to produce essential hormones, and to help our brain and heart function efficiently.
A diet rich in natural fat is not just beneficial, it's essential for good health!
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.co.uk. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.