Fat has become a scary, three-letter word to us. Medical professionals tell us that consuming too much dietary fat raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, and being fat ups the threat of numerous health conditions.
So why are we so afraid of fat?
In the 1980s, Americans became obsessed with health and fitness. That's when we saw leotard- and legwarmer-wearing women prancing around in VHS videos. It's also the time when government officials were worried about Americans' health, particularly our heart health. There were several studies done on cholesterol and its correlation to heart health. Studies had shown that red meat increased LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol and so the scurry to promote a low-fat diet ensued.
At the top of the decade, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its first ever low-fat Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
No. 3 of the guidelines said, “Avoid too much fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.”
When Americans slacked up on red meat, they also gave up any and every kind of fat. Along came fat-free cookies, fat-free cheese, light margarine and so on.
Doctors today believe anti-fat campaign lead to overconsumption of carbohydrates because despite the push for a low-fat diet, Americans kept getting fatter and kept having heart attacks. Fast forward 30 years: We are no healthier. Plus, the obesity rate has doubled in adults and tripled in children. Just because it doesn't have fat in it doesn't mean it can't make you fat — and it doesn't mean it's healthy.
If you compare a low-fat item's nutritional information with one that is not, there is usually not much difference in calories. But manufacturers typically add more salt, sugar and/or artificial fillers to make up for the loss of fat.
Another problem with low-fat everything is that we sometimes trick ourselves into believing it's OK to have a lot of that product. The result is you end up eating more than you normally would if it was the full-fat version. Moderation still is key.
In general, saturated fats such as animal fat and butter should be limited, dietitians say, but we shouldn't be afraid to add healthy fats and oils to our dishes.
Here are the recommendations for fat intake from the American Heart Association:
- Limit total fat intake to less than 25 to 35 percent of your total calories each day;
- Limit saturated fat intake to less than 7 percent of total daily calories;
- Limit trans fat intake to less than 1 percent of total daily calories;
- The remaining fat should come from sources of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as nuts, seeds, fish and vegetable oils; and
- Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 mg per day, for most people. If you have coronary heart disease or your LDL cholesterol level is 100 mg/dL or greater, limit your cholesterol intake to less than 200 milligrams a day.