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Nutrition News: Healthy Fats

Charlyn Fargo on

Healthy Fats

It is a mystery that it's suddenly OK to eat fat to lose fat. Just how does that make sense?

I grew up in the SnackWell's age -- those no-fat cookies in the green box that you could feel good about eating because they didn't have any fat. It was only later we realized they had more sugar and equal amount of calories compared to "regular" cookies.

Now, we're in the age of good fats -- avocados, olive oil, walnuts, salmon -- good because they either are high in omega-3s or high in mono- or polyunsaturated oils. And the message now is to feel good about eating "good" fats. The "bad" fats, by the way, are the saturated fats, found in animals, and trans fats, found in foods with hydrogenated margarines and other fats that tend to give foods shelf-life (think desserts in a box).

So why is it that you can eat fat to be healthy and maybe even lose weight?

A recent article in Eating Well magazine did a great job of explaining. It has to do with insulin sensitivity to the fats.

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A study at Harvard School of Public Health looking at data from 120,000 women over 20 years found that the type of fat that people ate affected their weight. The more saturated and trans fats in the diet the more pounds gained. And the more unsaturated fats (poly or mono) the less likely to gain; in many cases, weight loss occurred.

Here's how Dr. Frank Hu, chair of the department of nutrition, explained it: "Different types of fats have different metabolic effects in the body." If you eat saturated or trans fats, your cells don't absorb the resulting breakdown of glucose like they should. That results in insulin production and eventually weight gain from fat.

The researchers found that plant and fish sources of fats -- from olive oil, tuna, salmon, walnuts and sunflower seeds -- promoted insulin "sensitivity," which means the body used the fat for energy instead of storing it.

That makes you want to eat healthier fats, doesn't it? Make some simple switches: Instead of bacon bits on your salad, get your crunch from sliced almonds. Instead of queso dip at the Mexican restaurant, choose guacamole (just watch how many chips you eat). Instead of a rib-eye, choose salmon. Add some walnuts to your salad rather than croutons. Healthy fats, healthy you.

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