Fat seems to be in fashion. I’m not talking about the kind that pads our middles. It’s the stuff we eat. Foods like bacon, coconut oil, and avocadoes, have legions of followers who proliferate the pages of social media with recipes and lists of purported health benefits. That does not necessarily mean we should be eating more of it.
The American Heart Association endorses the idea of a healthy diet consisting of up to 30% of daily calories coming from fat. If you eat 2000 calories a day, which is reasonable for many people, then you may theoretically consume 600 calories of fat each day.
What does 600 calories of fat look like? One fast food meal can get you there. A quarter pounder with cheese and bacon, large fries, and vanilla shake contains 621 calories from fat (1630 calories total for the meal).
Significant amounts of fat are prevalent in many of the foods that Americans typically consume: things like beef, poultry skin, fried foods, and dairy products (milk, cheese, ice cream, butter). By including other fat sources like salad dressings, cooking oils, nuts and nut butters, etc. you can see that it would be very easy to consume more than 30% of your daily calories in the form of fat.
But, is the American Heart Association too generous in its fat allowance? Some health experts are advocating diets with much less. Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic has had success in treating people with existing heart disease using a whole foods, plant based diet. He recommends little or no added fats (including oils, nuts, and avocado). Most of his patients have actually experienced a reversal of symptoms by following this program. In fact a whole food, plant based diet is the only eating pattern that has been proven to do so.
“Don’t we need some fat in our diet?” you may be asking. Yes, but we don’t need much. Some fat is needed to absorb certain nutrients in foods, particularly vitamins A, D, E, and K. But keep this in mind. Many foods inherently contain fat. Whole grains are a good example. One cup of cooked brown rice has about 2 grams of fat, ½ cup of oats (uncooked) about 3 grams, one cup of cooked quinoa about 4 grams. Green leafy vegetables like kale and romaine contain a little fat. Even fruits contain a little fat, especially if the seed is consumed (think strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.)
If you are watching your weight and concerned about your heart health you may want to consider much less fat in your diet. Build your meals around fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and a few nuts and seeds to do so.