Hopefully you have already heard it, but a low-fat diet for diabetes and heart disease is outdated advice.
Yes, it was thought to be true that fat caused heart disease, but current research doesn’t support this. This is important because people with diabetes are at a higher risk for heart disease.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of fat. There are four common types of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated fat, and trans fat. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and the type of fat often found in red meat, dairy, and coconut oil. Foods that contain monounsaturated fats are avocado, olive oil, and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are found in most vegetable oils including sunflower, corn, flaxseed, and soybean oils. Omega 3 and omega 6 are technically polyunsaturated fats. Trans fat is made during the processing of food. When you eat any fat, it’s a combination of different types. For example, olive oil is 14% saturated fat, 11% polyunsaturated fat, and 73% monounsaturated fat.
So why are people so scared of fat? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended a low-fat diet for years which changed how and what we ate. The message almost became it was fine to eat a cookie if it was low fat. Many people still believe fat is bad for different reasons. Here are a few myths about fat:
Fat isn’t needed in our diet
Myth. Your body needs fat. Fat supplies energy for your body, just like protein and carbohydrates. Fat is part of every cell in our body, and your brain is about 60% fat. Fats provide essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t make. Fat has a role in regulating hormones, body temperature, immune function, reproduction, insulin signaling, and nutrient absorption. Vitamin A, D, E, and K rely on fat for absorption.
Myth. Fat does not directly raise glucose. Insulin resistance and A1C can be improved when carbohydrate or saturated fat is replaced with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. Eating carbs paired with protein and/or fat can help to reduce the rise in blood sugar.
Myth. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats don’t raise total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). They can help to reduce LDL cholesterol and increase HDL (good cholesterol). Trans fats do raise cholesterol and should be avoided. There is conflicting research on saturated fats and cholesterol. Saturated fat may increase LDL and HDL cholesterol or have a neutral effect. It is still recommended to limit intake of saturated fat.
Fat increases body weight
Myth. Research shows that people who eat a moderate or high fat diet lose just as much weight or more than people who eat a low-fat diet. Dietary fat doesn’t automatically convert to body fat. It is true that fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbohydrates, but all calories aren’t the same. Excess calories from carbs and protein are also be converted to fat. Fat slows down digestion and helps you to feel more satisfied after a meal.
So what type of fat should you be eating? Think about eating whole foods and including nuts, nut butter, seeds, fish, avocado, eggs, olives, and olive oil. Eat a variety of whole foods that you enjoy.