Dietary Fat is Not the Enemy, Says LAP-BAND VIP Bariatric Surgeon

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It's swimsuit season, and many fad diets urge dieters to keep carbohydrates at a minimum, but dietary fat has also been blamed for weight gain. Chef Bill Briwa of the Culinary Institute of America and weight loss surgeon Dr. Hooman Shabatian say some dietary fat is a healthy component of a nutritious diet.

Fat’s not the demon people have made it out to be...If you’re trying to lose weight a good strategy is to pay attention to it, but to say it’s all bad is to turn your back on the fact that it’s a nutrient we need

Walking through the grocery store, it’s common to see foods that claim to be low fat or fat-free. Even though fat is a concentrated source of calories, not all types of dietary fat are created equal. In fact, certain foods found in nature are high in “healthy” fats, such as monounsaturated fats found in avocados and nuts, according to Los Angeles weight loss surgeon Dr. Hooman Shabatian. Dr. Shabatian explains why dietary fat is an important nutrient even for those counting calories or trying to stay trim during the summer months.

Healthier types of fat, unlike saturated or trans fats, should be included in a nutritious diet, Chef Bill Briwa of the Culinary Institute of America said in a recent interview.

Briwa recommended cooking with natural oils, (such as those derived from sunflower seeds or nuts, and staying away from partially hydrogenated oils, which are synthetic. All of the macronutrients - carbohydrates, protein and fat – have a place in a sensible diet, even if fat has been “demonized,” Briwa said.

“Fat’s not the demon people have made it out to be,” said Briwa. “If you’re trying to lose weight a good strategy is to pay attention to it, but to say it’s all bad is to turn your back on the fact that it’s a nutrient we need. The new day dawning is people moving beyond the demonizing of fat and recognizing that there are fats out there that are better for you than others.”

Plenty of recipes include healthy oils, Briwa said. Olive oil is a particular favorite of Briwa’s, and it can be used to cook meat, stir fried vegetables or drizzled on a salad. Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, can decrease the risk of heart disease and may help with type 2 diabetes by controlling blood sugar levels.

Seafood is another source of dietary fat which includes heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acid fish oils, Briwa said. This polyunsaturated fat is an essential fatty acid, which is necessary for human health but cannot be naturally produced by the body. Omega 3 fatty acids have been found to have a number of health benefits. These include lowering triglycerides, or fat in the blood stream, aiding in prenatal health, and lowering blood pressure. Omega 3s may also help with conditions such as depression and controlling symptoms of chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis or asthma.

Dr. Hooman Shabatian said he counsels his patients to eat a low-fat diet and to avoid the “bad” fats. These include dietary fats such as saturated and trans fats which have been found to increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes or heart disease, among other health problems. Saturated fat, frequently found in red meat, can raise blood cholesterol levels. Dr. Shabatian recommended getting no more than 10 percent of daily calories from saturated fat.

Trans fat is not part of a healthy diet whatsoever, said Dr. Shabatian. It is found in many processed foods and it can increase LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and lower HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Trans fat is usually found in foods such as pastries, French fries, and hard margarine.

However, he stressed that not all fats are bad.

“While we don’t advise those who want to lose weight to eat a high fat diet, as it can lead to higher cholesterol and increase risk for heart disease, some fats are useful in a healthy diet,” said Dr. Shabatian. “Also, fat-free products are not as healthy as we’d like to believe, as they usually have a higher sugar content to boost the ‘lost’ flavor.”

Making sure excess fat is at a minimum in our diets is important, too, said Dr. Shabatian. Ways to avoid excess fat are eating leaner meats, buying skinless poultry, cutting out processed food, and cutting overall caloric intake. A useful method for checking the specific types and levels of fat in food products is by carefully reading the nutrition facts, he said.

Cooking at home can be a way to make sure the “good” fats are included in a meal, said Briwa. Whole foods, or foods that are found in nature and have not been processed, are what he uses in the kitchen whenever possible.

“Cooking whole foods is a great strategy, and cooking them in a thoughtful and sensitive way and educating yourself to the best of your ability and enjoying whole foods seems to be a great way and a time tested strategy,” said Briwa. “Mankind’s been doing it for a long time and only recently we’re stumbling with our diets.”

To learn more about dietary fats, visit the USDA page “Know Your Fats,” at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/nea/food/pdfs/hhs_facts_fats.pdf.

It is important to ask your physician before beginning any new type of diet.

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