Tip: Don’t avoid fat in your food – choose healthy fats that nourish you, support your health and comfort you through the cold days of winter.

By the Chef Marshall O’Brien Group

Decades of dietary advice recommending a low-fat diet has left many of us thinking fat is “bad.” In truth, fat is an essential part of your diet that plays an important role in your body’s functions. Instead of avoiding fat, learn which fats help you thrive and which ones lead to disease. With healthy fats in your diet, you can have your comfort food and nourish yourself at the same time!

Benefits of Dietary Fat

Fat is an essential part of a balanced diet that is needed to keep your body healthy and functioning properly. Dietary fat:

  • Helps absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as antioxidants like carotenoids and lycopene – you get more nourishment from vegetables when you eat them with fat
  • Helps regulate blood sugar and insulin levels
  • Is an important building block for cell membranes
  • Helps keep hair, skin and nails from becoming brittle and dry
  • Helps you feel full and satisfied after a meal, which may limit overeating
  • Improves the flavor of food

Emphasize Healthy Fats

Not all fats are created equal. These fats nourish your body and help you avoid disease:

  • Monounsaturated fats help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. They include:
    • olive oil
    • organic expeller-pressed canola oil
    • avocados
    • nuts and seeds
  • Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, reduce depression and help keep your skin and hair from drying out during cold northern winters. Good sources of omega-3s include:
    • Salmon
    • Mackerel
    • Sardines
    • Flaxseed
    • Chia seed
    • Walnuts

Consume Saturated Fats in Moderation

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends you consume less than 10 percent of your total calories from saturated fats, which are found mostly in animal products like meat and dairy. Certain types of saturated fats, including lauric acid from coconut oil, stearic acid in dark chocolate, and saturated fats found in dairy, may not have the same negative effects on cholesterol that other saturated fats have. In fact, drinking full-fat dairy is associated with a lower risk of obesity, less weight gain and lower rates of heart disease when compared to non-fat dairy. Replacing saturated fats in your diet with mono- and polyunsaturated fats improves heart health, but moderate consumption of certain saturated fats may not be as bad as previously thought.  

Avoid Artificial Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Fats

Nutrition professionals all agree you should completely avoid artificial trans fats. Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol levels, while increasing your risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. Artificial trans fats are formed when an oil is partially hydrogenated to make it more shelf stable and semi-solid at room temperature. To identify whether a food contains trans fats, look at the ingredients list – any food that contains a “partially hydrogenated” oil of any kind contains trans fats and should be avoided. Look for trans fats in fried foods like doughnuts, baked goods including cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits and crackers, frozen pizzas and margarine.

Fully hydrogenated fats are also man-made, but are processed till they are solid instead of semi-soft. While they are not as bad for one’s health as trans fats, they have the same characteristics as saturated fat (which should be minimized) and are found in many highly processed foods, so they should also be avoided. These fats are listed as “hydrogenated” on ingredients labels.

Choose Nourishing Comfort Foods

When the weather outside is frightful, we crave comfort foods that are traditionally loaded with unhealthy fats, processed carbohydrates and excess sodium. Don’t avoid comfort foods – make them more nourishing with healthy fats and whole grains that leave you feeling your best! Opt for a bowl of warming chicken-vegetable soup with brown rice, or try Chef Marshall’s Cheddar-Cannellini Fondue, which combines beans with more traditional cheese for a fondue that is higher in fiber, low in sodium and loaded with comfort.  

Healthy Fats Help You Thrive

Healthy fats are an essential part of a balanced diet that keep you feeling satiated and well. When your comfort foods include healthy fats, they will not only warm you up but will also nourish you. Avoid trans fats and minimize saturated fats in favor of mono- and polyunsaturated fats to feel your best, stay energized, keep your skin moisturized and comfort yourself.

You will love the way you feel!

Chef Marshall O’BrienThe Chef Marshall O’Brien Group is a dedicated assembly of professionals based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, committed to the goal of using nutrition to get kids and families to lead happier, healthier lives.