You want more 'good fat' in your diet, but not all fat is created equal. Here are some things to remember when shopping.
Unless you have been living under a rock, you will have noticed that dietary fat has gone from being the arch-enemy of the health-conscious to its newest darling. The 'fat-free' labels that once dominated every grocery store's dairy section have been replaced by 'full fat'. It's now trendy to add a dollop of butter to coffee, top oatmeal with a glug of whipping cream, blend avocado smoothies, and add coconut milk to curries.
This isn't a bad thing. Fat-free didn't help Americans much, considering that the national obesity rate climbed from 11 percent in 1990 to nearly 38 percent now, spanning the precise time period when fat-free was having its heyday. Many people fell for the misconception that fat in food translates to fat on one's body, but now it is understood that sugar and carbs, commonly substituted for fat in order to replace lost flavor, are much bigger culprits.
That being said, it's important not to go too crazy for fats. There are still a few things to consider when making decisions at the grocery store. Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Jane Black outlines her rules for "doing good fat better." Having eaten her way through the dairy section, here are a few of the things she suggests (see WSJ article for full list).
1. Not all fat is good.
You should still look at the type of fat you're consuming, not just assume it is all created equal. Scientific evidence is strong for unsaturated fats, such as salmon, nuts, and olive oil, but it is somewhat more vague regarding saturated fats, found in dairy and coconut; however, as Black writes, these are the foundation for so many of the new dairy and alt-dairy products.
"Here’s what we know: Grass-fed milk has higher levels of good-for-you Omega-3s than milk from dairy cows fed a diet of grain. Whole-fat dairy is also more satisfying than lower-fat products, which can lead one to consume fewer carbs and other calories. Coconut milk, meanwhile, has a health halo because it’s high in lauric acid, a medium-chain saturated fatty acid — the kind of fat that’s quickly metabolized — and said to have antimicrobial and other benefits. But it is important to remember that it contains a whopping 24 grams of saturated fat per half cup."
2. Make sure you're not getting more sugar with that extra fat.
Food manufacturers are loving the opportunity to sell full-fat food products, as it means new market opportunities. Be aware that many of these products still contain high quantities of sugar, making them more like desserts than health foods.
"Noosa, an ultra-popular upstart that recorded $170 million in sales last year, offers a line of 21 'classic' flavors, each with between 14 grams and 17.5 grams of sugar—as much as 4½ teaspoons per half cup. Likewise, many popular nut yogurts don’t shy away from sugar. Kite Hill’s pineapple and peach yogurts had nearly 13 grams and 11 respectively per half cup."
All this is to say, read the ingredient list carefully. This is also important with coconut milk, which tends to have additives like guar gum and lecithin unless it's a higher-priced brand. (Be suspicious of any can of coconut milk that costs under $3 if you want the real thing.)
And now, I'll add my own final piece of advice to sourcing fat:
3. Look beyond the dairy aisle.
As someone who has eliminated dairy in recent weeks for health reasons, I found Black's piece to be overly focused on milks and yogurts, but there are many other wonderful whole-food sources of fat that don't come with added ingredients. Eat nuts and nut butters like tahini and almond, olive and avocado oils, fresh avocados, olives, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, cashew-based ice creams. If you're not vegetarian, eat sustainably sourced salmon or other local fish, as well as small fish like herring, anchovies, and sardines.