Fats: Separating “Fat” from Fiction

Fats: Separating “Fat” from FictionThere is one “F word” you don’t have to fear (and can use freely), and that’s fats. Yes, you read that correctly. Although pegged as the bad guy in the 1990s, fat is incredibly important for overall health. It’s a macronutrient that cannot be skipped. Health benefits include staying fuller for longer, increasing absorption of certain nutrients, lowering the risk of certain diseases and so much more.

In the February 2019 edition of School Nutrition, Gabriela Pacheco, RD, LD, SNS, delves deep into the world of fats in the article “Fats: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.” The article discusses the five kinds of fats and what each of them do, in addition to reasons to include fat into your everyday diet and why fats are important for growing children.

Nine Jobs

Avocados, salmon and walnuts are just a few examples of healthy fats—but do you know just how powerful these guys truly are? Fats carry out nine basic functions beyond simply tasting good.

Appearance. Fats and oils can alter a food’s appearance by creating a glossy or moist visual texture. The ability of fat to reflect light is also responsible for the opaque appearance of milk. Fats also aid in the browning process of many foods, which gives them an appealing golden-brown color after cooking.
Emulsions. This is the dispersion of a fat or oil into water (or vice versa) like salad dressings, mayonnaise, gravies and cheese sauces. Emulsification produces unique flavor and texture qualities.
Flavor. Fat has the unique ability to absorb and preserve flavors. They also contain compounds that lend specific flavors of their own. The way fat coats the tongue and allows flavors to linger can also alter a flavor experience known as “mouth feel.”
Heat Transfer. Fats provide one of the most efficient modes of heat transfer during cooking. Hot oil can transfer high levels of heat to the surface of food without overheating the interior portions. Using fat to transfer heat also facilitates crust formation.
Melting Point. This is the temperature at which a substance changes from a solid to a liquid, which is especially important for foods like chocolate, frosting and salad dressings.
Nutrition. Fats are the most calorie dense compound in food, weighing in at over twice the calories per gram of proteins or carbohydrates. Fat is an effective method of delivering calories and are important for delivering fat-soluble vitamins such as A, E, D and K.
Satiety. Because fats take longer to digest than carbohydrates or protein, high-fat foods stay in the stomach longer and delay the feeling of hunger.
Shortening. This term is used to describe fat’s ability to make baked goods tender by impeding the formation of gluten strands. As bread dough is kneaded the gluten (wheat protein) begins to join and form long elastic strands, which give strength and a chewy texture to the bread. When fat is added to dough, as in biscuits and pie crusts, the fat impedes gluten formation, therefore keeping the final product tender and flakey.
Solubility. Similar to how fats and oils are not soluble in water, there are chemical compounds that are only soluble in fats. Including fat in food allows for maximum flavor and wider range of nutritional content and makes it easier to absorb certain vitamins.
Texture. Fats and oils have a texture all their own. Emulsions made with fat are responsible for the creamy texture of many items like ice cream, mayonnaise and other sauces.

Breaking Down Myth-conceptions

Despite the growing body of research in defense of fats, there are many myths that still exist. Let’s try breaking down a few of the common ones.

Myth1: Saturated fat causes heart disease.
Truth: There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

Myth 2: Vegetable oils are good.
Truth: Well, vegetable oils don’t actually come from vegetables. They’re processed from grains, such as corn, or from plants, such as soybeans. They are processed at high heat, often with very harsh chemicals so, by the time they end up on the shelf, there is little (if any) nutritional value in them. They are mostly made up of omega-6 fats, which, in the absence of sufficient omega-3s, are pro-inflammatory, as indicated above.

Myth 3: High-fat foods will raise your cholesterol.
Truth: While saturated fats are linked to an increase in cholesterol, other types, such as poly-unsaturated fatty acids (sunflowers, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, salmon, tuna and walnuts) have shown to significantly decrease cholesterol levels.

Myth 4: The less fat you eat, the better.
Truth: Your body needs three nutrients to thrive; protein, carbs, and fats (in moderation), so choose from the healthy fat options while limiting and/or avoiding saturated and trans fats as mentioned above.

Not all fats are created equal and, although fats are incredibly healthy, they are also calorically dense. Before adding a pile of guacamole onto your taco or drizzling a hefty stream of olive oil over your salad, be sure to read the February 2019 magazine article to get the full picture on fats!

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