Let’s talk about fat. Let’s be honest, we here in America have a lot of fat to discuss, both on our bodies and in our diets. Today we want to talk about dietary fat and how it affects our health.
What is fat? Why do some people tell you to be careful how much fat you consume while other people are telling you to make sure you eat enough of it? And with all the conflicting health reports out there, how does fat really affect your heart? Did we all eat carefully for the last few decades only to find out none of our efforts mattered? Are how can we be sure that the latest research has given us better information than the old research that has now been disproven?
The Latest and Greatest
After years of being told that saturated fat causes heart disease, now we are being told it doesn’t. Now it turns out the biggest culprit to the rampant heart disease in America is highly processed foods.
Why is that? Because the two biggest things the latest research tells us to watch out for are trans-fat and high glycemic load foods. In other words, you should eat real food that you cook yourself rather than processed packaged foods meant to last as long on the shelves as possible. Surprise!
Does saturated fat play a role in health at all then? Yes, it does—in two ways. 1) Saturated fat raises your bad cholesterol levels, which changes your lipid profile for the worse. And 2) saturated fat adds a lot of calories to your diet per tablespoon. If you’re watching your weight, saturated fat add up the calories quickly.
Olive Oil as a Healthy Alternative Fat
Twenty-one studies over the last decade can be summarized in two bits of diet advice:
- Eat a Mediterranean type diet; and
- Eat plenty of marine-based Omega 3 fat.
These two things contribute the most to people’s heart health.
Picture the Mediterranean with its brilliant blue skies, warm weather, long growing seasons, and prolific local crops, and you have a pretty good idea what the Mediterranean diet is like. A wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Moderate meat intake overall, but fish at least twice a week. Limited intake of dairy products and sweets. In a word: wholesome.
The American Heart Association recommends that if you’re watching your cholesterol levels and have about a 2,000 calorie daily intake, your saturated fat consumption not be over 11 to 13 grams per day. Olive oil has a large central place in this type of diet. Not only is it made up primarily of monounsaturated fats that are good for your body and brain, but it delivers a mighty wallop of health benefits as well. It’s loaded with antioxidants, encourages healthy cholesterol levels, fights inflammation, and aids in balancing blood sugar too.
How Substitutions Work
One of the easiest ways to get more healthy fats into your diet is to substitute them for less healthy fats in recipes. If you’d like to choose the healthier calories of olive oil over the less healthy calories of butter, here are a few easy-to-remember guidelines that will help:
- Substitute at a ratio of 75% olive oil compared to the butter called for. (I.e., 8 tablespoons of butter becomes 6 tablespoons of olive oil.)
- Olive oil won’t work in recipes where the fat needs to be solid at room temperature. Read your recipe with that in mind before just substituting willy-nilly.
- Use a milder olive oil for delicately flavored recipes. Save the stronger flavored oils for savory recipes or deeper flavors like dark chocolate.
Where will research take us next? No one knows. But one food fact has been sure for centuries: olive oil is the liquid gold of the food world. It tastes good, delivers a huge amount of health benefits in a small amount of oil, and is part of the widely recommended Mediterranean diet. Eat up! Your heart will thank you!