Are You Suffering From Fat Phobia?

Healthy fats are an important part of a balanced diet. Here’s why.

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We live in a nation that fears fat. We don't want it on our bodies, and we don't want it on our plates. It's no wonder so many of us try to avoid this nutrient … look what it's called! Who would want to add fat to their body? The assumption is that if you eat fat, it will make you fat. In my opinion, fats shouldn't have been called fats in the first place – they should have been called lipids, a name that's a little easier to swallow. Then our major nutrients would have been referred to as carbohydrates, protein and lipids.

In the 1980s, fat and cholesterol in food were treated as if they were toxic. This lead to a surge in products wearing 'fat-free' food labels, and even though these foods were often higher in sugar and similar in calories to their original counterparts, they still flew off supermarket shelves. Consumers were smitten by the promise of dropping weight just by ditching fat.

[See Unusual Uses for Avocados.]

Unfortunately, this fat-free frenzy didn't lead to a dip in our obesity rates, because saying 'no' to fat often meant 'yes' to other, less healthy foods. Although fat became the nutrient we all loved to hate, the fact is that foods that contain fats are more likely to be satiating – and perhaps lead to a lower calorie intake, provided portions are kept in check. Plus, certain fats may provide the added bonus of health benefits.

Scientists and messages from the media have shifted our focus from total fat to type of fat, because it's the type of fat that may have the greatest impact on our well-being. Research in this area prompted government agencies and health organizations to revise dietary recommendations for fat intake, emphasizing the quality of fat versus its quantity. The right fat provides energy, cushions our organs and allows the body to absorb essential nutrients like vitamins A, D, E and K. And for us foodies, fats provide a creamy consistency and rich flavor. We need fat to survive, but it's the fats derived from plant sources that can help us live healthfully and deliciously.

[See Dietary Fat: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.]

Studies have shown that foods like avocado, nuts and oils might help in lowering cholesterol levels and decrease inflammation which, in turn, could decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes and certain cancers. Let's take a closer look at why you should be adding avocado to your plate:

• Avocados provide nearly 20 vitamins, minerals and beneficial plant compounds. That's a food that multitasks!

• More than 75 percent of the fat in avocados is unsaturated (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), making the popular fruit a great swap for less valuable fats, like mayonnaise. Have you ever tried some on a sandwich?

Like to bake? The calories in a recipe can be reduced by subbing avocado for an ingredient like butter. Two tablespoons of avocado provides around 50 calories, while 2 tablespoons of butter pack 204 calories.

• Avocados can be a meal chameleon: Have some at breakfast (with eggs), lunch (on a sandwich), dinner (atop a salad) or with a snack (guacamole dip). Do you have a favorite avocado-time of day?

It's time to welcome healthy fats as part of a balanced diet. The simple message is that fats are important – but not all are created equal, so be careful about which types you choose.

[See Is a Low-Fat Diet Right for You?]

Hungry for more? Write to eatandrun@usnews.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RD, CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com