Fatten Up to Lose Weight!

by : Pat Barone

More and more food labels are screaming "FAT FREE!" but America's weight is increasing. What's going on?

Eating "fat free" has been one of the most popular trends in recent years, but dieters are finding that adding fat to their diets, provided it is the right kind of fat, is helping them lose more weight than avoiding fat.

Fat is a vital component of good nutrition and necessary in many aspects of body maintenance, repair and sustenance. Fats help the body produce energy, maintain cell membranes and blood vessels, transmit nerve impulses, and support essential hormones. Not only does your body need fat to function, it also requires a certain amount in order to absorb other nutrients, including vitamins A, D, E and K. An example of how important fat is to a healthy diet: the positive effect of phytochemicals in vegetables is lost when fat-free dressing is added to a salad. The cancer-fighting phytochemicals (carotenes) need to bind to fat in order to be absorbed into the body.

Recent studies show that fat has an enormous effect on satiation. Fat helps the brain register satisfaction, and that the cue to stop eating. In addition, it gives food flavor, which can also go a long way towards feeling satisfied.

There are four types of fats:

Monounsaturated fats: These fats include peanuts, avocados, olives and olive oil. Evidence suggests that this type of fat is positive, and statistics from Mediterranean countries show lower rates of breast cancer and coronary artery disease may result from a reasonable use of these fats.

Polyunsaturated fats: These are the fats you often hear referred to as "the good fats." They are essential fatty acids that decrease overall cholesterol and promote "good" cholesterol. Included in this fat group are the omega-3 fats found in salmon, sardines, white albacore tuna, anchovies, walnuts, almonds, flax and a wide variety of vegetables. Omega-3 fats can also be ingested in the form of supplements like flax seed oil, borage oil, and fish oil.

Saturated fats: These fats are solid at room temperature and are found in meat products and dairy products like butter, cheese, milk, and ice cream. Other solid fats like coconut and palm oil are also part of this category, and all are linked to higher risks of obesity and heart disease.

Trans fats (trans fatty acids): are prevalent in shortening and margarines; baked goods and packaged items like cookies, donuts, pies, crackers, breads, chips, snack foods, granola and grain bars, cakes, candy, movie popcorn and fried foods. On ingredient lists, trans fats are listed as "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils. These fats have been connected to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and reproductive problems.

Choose fats from the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated categories while keeping in mind all fat is high in calories, 9 calories per gram.

Studies show the simple shift in the choice of type of fat is vital. Penn State University conducted research with participants on diets composed of various percentages of fat. All the diets totaled the same amount of calories but participants following diets that were 35% fat (made up of monounsatured and polyunsatured types) lost the same amount of weight as those following 20% fat diets that were made up mostly of trans fats.

Avoiding foods labeled "fat free" will help weight loss efforts as well. Most food manufacturers add sugars, including high fructose corn syrups, to foods in an attempt to replace the flavor lost when removing the fat.

Understanding the difference between "good" and "bad" fats is a valuable tool in the quest for health and fitness. Using the appropriate amount of healthy fat will ensure satisfaction and proper absorption of the nutrients vital to healthy weight loss.