'Diet', 'weight loss', 'low-fat'…these terms usually go hand-in-hand and when looking at Gallup poll data from 2012 on Americans' views on best diets, Americans tend to lean toward low-fat rather than low-carb diets if and when they choose to do so.
'Fat' is one of those words that conjures up some nasty feelings in many of us and has gotten a bad rap over the years. I can attest to this; growing up in a time when low-fat-is-good-health dogma was at its peak, I always believed that low-fat diets were 'healthy'. A year before I was born, the National Institute of Health had officially released their recommendation that people over the age of 2 need to eat less fat. This means no more bacon and eggs for breakfast unless you wanted to die from heart disease!
So what was replacing those high-fat morning meals? Most likely a bowl of sugary, refined carbohydrates (cereal) and low-fat milk. Not much staying power there! If you don't eat something that will keep you satisfied until your next meal you will most likely eat more than necessary or find yourself snacking on something else processed and sugar laden. It's easy to see how this type of eating behavior can quickly lead to weight gain. Foods with 'staying power' include fiber, protein and…fat.
Research is showing us that fat isn't the bad guy but is necessary for our body's proper functioning. So are people starting to relax and not be overly concerned about the fat they consume? Not really. In a recent Gallup Poll from July 7-10, 2014 on Americans' Dietary Choices, 56% of respondents said they "actively try to avoid fat in their diet" and only 22% actively try to "include" it.
I can tell you I am now friends with fat and understand the many roles fat can play in a healthful diet. Some fats might be better than others but there is no need to cut fat out entirely. Olive oil, for example, is full of monounsaturated fatty acids and natural antioxidants making it a heart healthy alternative.
More fat, more flavor
Adding fats and oils to your marinade, sauce, dip, etc. will help bring out fat-soluble seasonings and herbs, helping to distribute those flavors in your mouth. They will also improve the overall 'mouth-feel' and make your meal more pleasurable. Unrefined oils like coconut, truffle, walnut, sesame and extra virgin olive oils all have rich, unique flavors so adding them to your dish will undoubtedly improve the flavor profile of your food. Keep in mind that all fat provides 9 calories per gram so a tablespoon of olive oil will deliver roughly 120 calories. A little goes a long way.
Stay tuned for more on cooking with oils and their 'smoke points'- something every home cook needs to know. In the meantime, don't worry so much about the fat content of your food but whether your meals are balanced with quality ingredients, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.