For the past 15 months, I have been on a fitness journey, having successfully lost and subsequently maintained my 82-pound weight loss through a combination of exercise and diet. During this experience, I have learned the importance of healthy fat in my diet. My coach gave me a meal plan outline to follow, one that focused on the right balance of lean protein, nutrient-rich carbohydrates like fresh fruits and vegetables, elimination of added, processed sugar and most starchy carbohydrates, and healthy fat. I will never forget when she suggested Greek yogurt as a great source of protein, but said, ͞Full fat or low fat, never fat free. She explained that we need fat in our diet.
Recently I participated in an online discussion about Greek yogurt versus another type of yogurt. My friends suggested that I try this yogurt in place of my preferred 2% milkfat, plain Greek yogurt. I was hesitant. I researched the other yogurt type and even purchased a few containers to try. The first thing I noticed was that the consistency was not as hearty as Greek yogurt because it was fat free. When I double checked the label in comparison to my usual Greek yogurt, I discovered that both the fat-free and low-fat versions had added cane sugar to compensate for the missing fat. This is unhealthy for two reasons: fat-free versions often have additives, usually chemicals and/or processed sugar. Secondly, fat is naturally occurring in dairy products. Removing fat is an unnecessary process. We should be eating foods in their most natural state with minimal intervention and processing.
I have one more thing to add regarding Greek yogurt. Not all brands are created equal. I received a coupon to try another brand of Greek yogurt. There was both a fat-free and a full-fat version of the plain yogurt. I read the labels. Both had pectin. Pectin is a gelling and thickening agent that naturally occurs in fruit that has very little nutritive value. Needless to say, I was disappointed. Plain yogurt should be just that, plain, nothing added.
With regard to fat free versus fat, the same rule of thumb can be applied to other foods, not just yogurt. Fat-free foods usually have been processed to remove fat and have added ingredients such as chemicals or sugar to replace it.
I recently completed my gym’s nutrition certification in preparation to become a fitness coach and the importance of fat is one of the topics of the certification. Fat is not bad for us. In fact, it is both an essential and a protective nutrient that our body needs. For example, fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K require fat to be transported and absorbed by our bodies. Fats should make up 20-35% of our daily calories. If you want to lose weight, you want to consume 25-30% fat. Healthy fats include monounsatured, polyunsaturated, and Omega 3-fatty acids. These are found in foods like avocado, nuts and nut oils, olives and olive oil, seeds and seed oils, and seafood such as salmon. These are the best fats to include in your diet. Saturated fats should play less of a role in your diet, although they are often found in excellent sources of protein like meat, dairy products, and eggs. Saturated fats also include tropical oils such as coconut and palm and should be consumed sparingly. Hydrogenated oils are called trans fats. These oils are used to make margarine and are often found in processed baked goods. Trans fats should be avoided.
The key to making good fat choices is to read labels and research the nutrition of foods before purchasing. When selecting fat sources like nuts, nut oils, and nut butters to your diet, raw, natural, and organic choices are best. Choose nut butters without added sugar or hydrogenated oils. With regard to saturated fats, make sure they come from the highest quality and least processed meat, egg, and dairy products that you can find. Local farmers and farmers’ markets are great sources of the freshest food.
Here’s to making better food choices in the new year!