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[1] may be over, many Americans are still wary of eating too much fat or are confused about what types of fat to eat.

Trying to avoid fat altogether is unquestionably a bad strategy for most people, including people with diabetes. Certain types[2] of dietary fat are associated[3] with lower blood glucose[4] levels, dairy fat[5] and walnuts[6] (which are high in fat) are associated with a lower risk of developing Type 2 diabetes[7], and moderate nut consumption is associated with a significantly lower risk of death[8]. 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[9] notes that the U.S. government’s 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans[10] 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[11] — 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[12] 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[13], 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[14].

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!

  1. low-fat craze of the 1990s:
  2. Certain types:
  3. are associated:
  4. glucose:
  5. dairy fat:
  6. walnuts:
  7. Type 2 diabetes:
  8. is associated with a significantly lower risk of death:
  9. the article:
  10. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
  11. 2016 Food & Health Survey:
  12. omega-3 fatty acids:
  13. California Walnut Board:
  14. guide to the different types:

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