There's so much health misinformation out there, debunking all the diet-plan myths could be my full-time job!
The Internet has made it worse, of course, but a lot of the misinformation tripping up would-be dieters actually comes from health professionals and researchers. With the best of intentions, people who should "know better" have been giving us health advice for decades. But as we've learned more and more about health and nutrition, we've discovered that a lot of what we've been told by the so-called "experts" was absolutely wrong.
Of all the myths that make dieters want to chuck it all for a box of cookies, the most pervasive and wrong-headed has to be the maligning and banning of fats.
Since "fat," an absolutely essential part of a healthy diet plan, happens to share a name with "fat," the rolls of flab or unsightly cottage cheese on our tummies and thighs, many dieters will look at the total fat on a nutrition label and avoid the food if it contains "too much." What these dieters don't know is that they're missing out on a lot of essential nutrients - not to mention some delicious foods - by treating all fats the same.
In order to clear up some of the confusion, let's do a quick rundown of "good" and "bad" fats.
Monounsaturated Fats: Your food label will actually break this out for you, telling you precisely how many grams of fat in an item are monounsaturated fats. Multiple studies have suggested that monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) may help lower LDL cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Get MUFAs in your diet plan from nuts, avocados, pumpkin, sesame seeds, and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated Fats: You definitely need more of these in your diet. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are another type of fat specified on food labels. Found in nuts, seeds, leafy greens, fish, and krill, PUFAs are best eaten whole, since cooking them severely compromises their health benefits. There are two specific types of PUFAs you need to know about:
- Omega-3s make just about anything better. Found in seafood, grass-fed meat, flaxseed, and some nuts, Omega-3s help preserve heart health and lower blood pressure. Since your body can't produce Omega-3s on its own, you need to get them from your diet. Two servings of Omega-3-rich fish a week should do it.
- Omega-6s are found in nuts, oils, and processed foods. Most American diets have Omega-6 in abundance, which can be problematic. Researchers believe the ideal ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 is 1:4. But for the typical American, that ratio is closer to 15:1. Most of us are almost certainly getting too much Omega-6. While it isn't damaging in moderation, too much is dangerous.
Saturated Fats: Were you expecting this to show up in the bad fat section? Well, surprise! Saturated fat isn't the devil it's been made out to be. People used to believe that saturated fat caused weight gain and cardiovascular problems, but newer research casts doubt on that theory. One thing that's certain: saturated fats like coconut oil are great to cook with. They can withstand high temperatures, so you don't have to worry about the composition breaking down and introducing toxins to your body.
Trans Fats: Bad isn't even a strong enough word. Trans fats are evil, horrible, awful. They may increase your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and even depression. Hydrogenation - the process by which vegetable oils are heated to ensure stability and "freshness" - creates trans fats, and they are, quite simply, poison. Trans fats are the reason things that ought to spoil stay unnaturally fresh for months and months. Trans fats are, essentially, a preservative. Stay far, far away.