I feel conflicted just reading the title of this column. "Fats"—the word just seems to have a nasty ring to it. How could fats be good?
My venture into discovering more about which fats are "good" and which are "bad" is the next step of my exploration into dietary changes, which began recently when I started lowering my carbohydrate intake. My aim is to find the right foods for me to eat that will help me both to keep my blood-glucose levels under control and to live a longer and healthier life.
I tried eating a lower-carb diet a few years ago, but just couldn’t seem to give up the carbohydrates. This time around, it seems easier—maybe because I am seeing such good results in the numbers on my glucose meter. My blood glucose stays fairly level. If I try even two bites of my son’s pancake, however, I go up into the 200s! I like it when my numbers hover in the same-lower-range. I feel better, too.
I recently went to hear author Fran McCullough speak about her new book, "The Good Fat Cookbook" (Scribner, 2003). What she said in her talk—and repeats in her book—astounded me. Much of what I have been taught about dietary fat is completely wrong, she asserts.
One topic she addressed is an issue we’ve written about before: the ill effects of trans fats and hydrogenated oils (see "Coming to a Nutrition Facts Panel Near You?" December 2002, p. 38). In a July 2002 study, the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, declared that no level of trans fats in the diet is safe.
I am currently working hard to keep trans fats out of my family’s diet. This is not easy, as food producers put it in all the stuff my kids bring to the shopping cart—everything from cookies and crackers to potato chips. I am constantly saying, "No, put that back. We can’t buy it."
But McCullough also argues that it isn’t just trans fats that we need to avoid. She goes on to implicate other oils that I had been told were healthy, including canola, soy, corn, vegetable, sunflower and safflower oils.
Why are they unhealthy? To keep those oils from becoming rancid on the shelves, McCullough explains, they are "highly processed and refined,…bleached, deodorized, and treated with chemical solvents like hex-ane, a dry-cleaning fluid." This process gives these oils the dangerous potential to create free radicals (oxidants) in our bodies, which can cause a host of problems, including killing healthy cells and even damaging DNA.
Instead, McCullough asserts that we need to take a second look at what she calls the "good fats." "The good fats …are not only delicious," she notes, "they’re good for your brain, heart, immune system, hormones, skin, memory, and emotional well-being."
I hope you’ll get a chance to read "The Good Fat Cookbook" for yourself. The author provides a lot of well-researched, thought-provoking information.