Dietary Fat: Fads and Fallacies

Dietary fat has long gotten a bad rap in our culture. Walk down the aisles of any grocery store, and you’ll see “low-fat” or “fat-free” prominently displayed on many labels — claims that are seldom made when a product is low in carbohydrate or protein. While the extreme low-fat craze of the 1990s may be over, many Americans are still wary of eating too much fat or are confused about what types of fat to eat.

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Trying to avoid fat altogether is unquestionably a bad strategy for most people, including people with diabetes. Certain types of dietary fat are associated with lower blood glucose levels, dairy fat and walnuts (which are high in fat) are associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and moderate nut consumption is associated with a significantly lower risk of death. But as a recent article shows, many Americans remain unaware of the benefits of dietary fat.

Published last month in The Washington Post, the article notes that the U.S. government’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting enough of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while limiting saturated fat and avoiding trans fat. Despite these recommendations, the International Food Information Council’s 2016 Food & Health Survey — involving 1,003 Americans ages 18–80 — found that 39% of participants were trying to avoid fats and oils. More surprisingly, 30% said they were specifically trying to avoid monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats — considered “healthy” fats by the vast majority of nutrition experts.

While 37% of survey participants said they were trying to include more omega-3 fatty acids in their diet, it’s unclear whether most of these people knew that omega-3s are a form of polyunsaturated fat, or even a type of fat at all. In a separate survey of 1,020 adults conducted by the California Walnut Board, two-thirds of respondents agreed with the statement “fat is my enemy” — yet three-fourths also agreed that omega-3s are healthy and beneficial.

If you’re one of the many people confused by all the different varieties of fat, check out Amy Cambell’s short guide to the different types.

What’s your experience with dietary fat — have you avoided it, or thought that you should? Have you stayed away from certain types of fat, or high-fat foods? Have you noticed any relationship between your fat intake and blood glucose levels? Has eating more or less fat helped you gain or lose weight? Leave a comment below!

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