5 Fun Facts about Fat + Tasty Chipotle Maple Vinaigrette

One of the most stubborn nutritional myths I still encounter over and over is that fat is bad for you. Some people still believe the nutritional theory from 30-odd years ago that fat makes you fat. Maybe you’ve heard that high fat foods like avocado are okay but refined fats like olive oil are bad for you. And then there’s animal fat: good or bad? So as part of March National Nutrition Month, I want to clarify (like ghee ha ha!) what’s up in the current nutritional thinking so you can get down with fat. And don’t miss the sweet and spicy dressing recipe at the end.

1. Fat does not make you fat.
This goes against all we learned growing up. Remember all those low-fat foods we purchased, thinking we were being healthy? Turns out that sugar is what makes us fat so all those Snackwells we ate that were fat free but high in sugar were anything but healthy.

2. Most fat is good for you.
The cholesterol in fat actually serves an important function. Cholesterol is a cell builder so we need it as our bodies are constantly rebuilding themselves. Cholesterol gets a bad rap when it goes overboard on its patchwork on damage done by inflammation. If you want to reduce arterial clogging, don’t look at cholesterol. I suggest you reduce what is causing the inflammation—a good place to start is to look at how much sugar you are consuming since refined sugar is the most inflammatory food you can eat.

Not only is cholesterol not the big bad wolf the doctors thought it was, but some vitamins are fat-soluble and actually are better absorbed if eaten with fats. Take vitamin A for example, the one that is so good for your eyes abundant in carrots and dark leafy greens. Turns out a little butter (grass-fed natch) on your sautéed carrots and an olive oil dressing on your salad greens has them actually be more nutritious to your body.

3. Your brain needs fat.
Your brain is actually at least 60% fat and needs fat to function. Your brain needs what is called essential fatty-acids (EFAs) that cannot be created by our body. These EFAs are built into every cell membrane and are the most abundant fats in brain tissue. EFAs are broken into two families, omega 6 and omega 3 fatty acids and must be obtained from the food we eat. Good food sources of omega 3 fats include fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, herring and mackerel, as well as flax seed oil, and nuts, particularly walnuts. Omega 6 is easier to get as it is abundant in corn, and corn is in everything. Ideally we should get an equal amount of omega 3 and 6 fatty acid. Getting enough omega 3 is more of a challenge so I tell my clients to focus on that and not worry about the abundant omega 6.

Since our bodies don’t create EFAs, we need to get these fats from our diet. This is the main concern I have with the vegan diet, especially as a diet for children whose brains are developing. Unless you are very cognizant of eating a lot of various plant sources of EFAs, it can be a challenge to get enough of them as a vegan and brain function can be impaired.

4. Fat makes you feel full.
Fat is the element in a dish that makes it satisfying. It’s the rich and creamy quality that people like about “comfort foods”. The manufacturers of low-fat foods have tried to recreate this mouth feel with fillers and additives that are anything but healthy. But there’s still something missing which is one reason why you may eat more of a low fat food. I would much prefer you eat full fat whole foods rather than a low-fat version and not get that satisfied feeling.

5. Some fats are toxic.
This is important: trans fats, like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, are basically poison to the body and should never be consumed (for cooking choose olive oil and coconut oil instead). Additionally, the vegetable oil that is used in fried food has been brought to such high temperatures and used over and over that it is inflammatory to the body.

Eating food should be a pleasurable experience. It is truly one of my favorite things to do. Add fat to your vegetables to boost your nutrition, help out your brain, and up the satisfaction factor. Eat full fat yogurt, mayonnaise, and milk products (if you can tolerate them); Eat nuts and seeds, avocados, and fatty fish like salmon, all of which are great foods for your brain and body.

Here is one of our favorite homemade salad dressing recipes. Salad dressing is super simple to make, by the way, and much less expensive than buying the ready made bottles. As a rule of thumb, you want a 2:1 ratio of fat (oil) to acid and beyond that, a dressing is endlessly customizable with flavors, herbs, and spices. The acid can be vinegar or citrus or a combination. Play around and have some fun with your salads.

Chipotle Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ to 1 tsp previously blended chipotle pepper in adobo sauce (or to taste)
1 tsp pure maple syrup

Put all ingredients in a small jar with a lid and shake until blended. Taste and adjust flavors to your preference. Pour on salad, toss and enjoy.

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