Fat is my friend. Food fat that is. Fat adds flavor and texture and satisfaction to your food. Fat in your meals can increase satiety and moderate appetite. Despite these positive attributes, public health “experts” spent the past few decades spreading fat phobia, because certain fats were linked to increased risk for heart disease. The anti-fat crusade was boosted by the belief that food fat turned right into body fat. For some people, that might have been the most important argument. Food companies jumped at the chance to capitalize on fat phobia, and the low fat food industry was born.
More recently, some health organizations are moving away from fat phobia. The US Dietary Guidelines doesn’t recommend limiting fat intake, other than saturated fat. The healthful Mediterranean diet is famously high in fat, sometimes over 40% fat calories, although of course most of that fat is from olive oil or nuts. But many diet and health advocates, including some of my colleagues, continue to promote “low fat” in food products, recipes and diet advice. It makes me cringe. Did non-fat milk, fat-free salad dressing, non-fat cookies, low fat chips and low fat ice cream make us healthier or thinner?
It’s important to have a reasonable amount of fat in your diet. Low fat diets have none of those benefits. Instead of “low fat”, you should be thinking “healthy fats”.
What are healthy fats?
Most nutrition experts define healthy fats as those from plant sources, particularly high monounsaturated fat foods like olive oil, nuts and avocado. High intake of saturated fats, primarily from foods like butter, whole milk, coconut, cheese and red meat is not advised. By default, a plant-based diet would include fewer high saturated fat foods, and more plant-sourced fats.
Research has a habit of throwing cold water on cherished nutrition beliefs, and assumptions about fats are not immune. A study published last summer found that a diet high in plant foods and high fat dairy foods was linked to better health outcomes.
A diet comprised of higher amounts of fruit, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fish, and whole-fat dairy is associated with lower CVD and mortality in all world regionsDiet, cardiovascular disease and mortality in 80 countries
Whole fat dairy foods? But wait, the experts told us to avoid those! But as the data on almost 150,000 people showed, whole fat dairy foods as part of a diet rich in plant foods were linked to better health. This doesn’t mean load up on butter. It means your diet should be plant-based, and some whole fat dairy foods can be included. The Mediterranean Diet is a good example; it includes yogurt and cheese, but most of the fat in that diet is from olive oil and nuts.
Unfortunately olive oil is getting very expensive. Demand is high thanks to its healthful reputation. But drought in olive growing regions has impacted harvests. Price hikes were predicted early this year. Spain, the major olive oil producing country, expected a 50% reduction in yield. Other countries in that region had similar reductions. Less oil plus more demand equals higher prices. Add inflation and the price goes up even more.
Healthy fats in your daily diet
What’s a health conscious person to do? I still recommend quality olive oil for salads and other non-cooking uses. For higher heat cooking, switch to canola or peanut oil. Avocado oil would be a good choice, but I’m concerned about quality control issues in avocado oil production. Until that is sorted out, I’ll stick to alternatives like peanut and canola.
If you’re not big on using oils, you can get healthy fats from nuts and nut butters. Or avocado, which has many convenient uses, from guacamole to slices on a sandwich or wrap, to salads or omelets. Healthy fats should be part of your diet. Fat phobia is so 20th century.
Here a recipe I could call “3 Healthy Fats Salad”, but I won’t. This is a main dish vegetarian salad. The healthy fats come from olive oil, walnuts and avocado. If you like, you can add pieces of bacon for added flavor.
Couscous Salad with Kale
This recipe calls for pearl (Israeli) couscous, although you could substitute the smaller granular couscous.
- 1 cup pearl couscous
- 1 avocado, cut into chunks
- 1/4-1/3 cup chopped red onion
- 1 to 1-1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- de-ribbed and chopped kale, to make 1-1/2 cups loosely packed
- 1 cup walnut pieces, toasted for 5-7 minutes at 350º
- 2-3 oz feta cheese, crumbled or chopped
- about 1/3 cup minced fresh basil
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- salt to taste
- 3 TB olive oil
- Step 1 Cook the couscous in 1-1/2 cups water according to package instructions. Do not overcook. Drain and rinse the couscous.
- Step 2 Mix together in a large bowl: couscous, vegetables, walnuts, feta, basil.
- Step 3 Add the olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Mix and taste for salt.
- Step 4 Chill before serving. Taste improves if the salad sits for a couple of house.