Dietary fat has been demonized for so long, the point bears repeating: In truth, fat is not the bad guy – as a couple of recent studies make clear.

healthy fatsThe first, just published in PLoS Medicine, looked at the effects of fats and carbs on blood glucose and insulin function, using data from more than 100 controlled feeding trials. Overall, they found that eating ”healthy fats” in place of carbs or saturated fat lowered blood sugar and improved insulin resistance and secretion.

The most consistent effects were seen with an increase in polyunsaturated fats, which include heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

Meantime, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine analyzed results from multiple studies comparing a Mediterranean diet with unrestricted fat intake to other diets. As Mother Jones reported,

They didn’t find an effect on mortality overall. But what they found reinforced some of the benefits of the Mediterranean diet: It is associated with a reduced risk of heart attack, Type 2 diabetes, and breast cancer (though the paper notes there’s less evidence on this last one). And all those benefits appeared even when that Mediterranean diet included unrestricted amounts of fat. [emphasis added]

Of course, the Mediterranean diet is marked by an abundance of not just any fat but “healthy fats” in particular.

Ah, there they are again – those “healthy fats.” But just what are we really talking about when we talk about “healthy fats?” We’re talking monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

As mentioned, omega 3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and have been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits. While they’re found in abundance in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, and mackerel, they can also be found in flaxseed, walnuts, and grass-fed/pastured meat and dairy.

Other polyunsaturated fats can be found in sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds (and their oils, natch).

Monounsaturated fats include the fat in avocados, olives, nuts, and nut butters (natural, no sugar or ingredients other than the nuts and salt).

But although we call these fats “healthy,” we shouldn’t assume that saturated fats are bad. After all, our bodies need all types of naturally occurring fat to thrive. The only one we have no need for is trans fat, well known to do a number on many aspects of health. But there’s a place for saturated fat, as well – in the form of organic, pastured meat, for instance, or pastured dairy or coconut oil.

The quality of that fat, matters, too. With oils, especially, you want to stick with traditional, cold-pressed oils, which are made without the use of chemicals – unlike processed oils such as corn, canola, and soybean oils. Non-GMO and organic should go without saying. The nutrition your body wants is food as close to its natural state as possible, food as it exists in nature, minimally processed.

Naturally occurring dietary fats are your friends.

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