If you’re baffled about fat there’s good reason to be. We’ve come full circle between trans-fat, low-fat, no-fat and right back around again to good-fats. Depending on your age, you may have grown up with butter or lard on the counter and remember their dubious replacement: Crisco.

We might have been doing ourselves a disservice with margarine, but it sure did spread well on white bread. I can easily recall pouring skim over my bowl of cereal. Fat has been cut off for decades, the red-headed step child of sorts.

Roll forward to 2014, when controversial interpretations of studies have led to a new generation of butter gobblers — people trendily dropping saturated fat into their coffee in the morning and deliberately eating it throughout the day.

What’s with this new obsession and is there a place for it in a healthy diet?

For starters, we now know low-fat isn’t high nutrition; in fact, low-fat dietary recommendations have all but died out in recent years, replaced by smart fat choices.

In fact, the American Heart Association recommends a healthy diet that includes “25-35 percent of total calories from fats. That is considered a moderate-fat diet.” However, the AHA isn’t recommending saturated fats, rather, healthier poly and mono-unsaturated fats. These fats are found in natural foods like avocados, nuts, and fatty fish like salmon or trout.

Many are scared by fat, but the truth is the body does some great things with fat.

Diabetes and Fats

Questionable interpretations in the Wall Street Journal suggest that “Fat doesn't make you fat or diabetic. Scientific investigations going back to the 1950s suggest that actually, carbs do.” Which may hold true, depending upon what one chooses to replace missing fats with.

While that theory is still in its infancy, what we do know is that fat happens to be very satiating and for many, may decrease the constant cycle of carb-seeking behaviors that occur with low-fat diets. When fat’s removed from processed foods its usual replacement is sugar, which isn’t doing us much of a favor.

Limiting processed foods and refocusing on a diet rich in whole foods is always prudent.

Let’s myth bust a little here.

We’ve been trained to think that fats in our diet glom right to the lining of our blood vessels, essentially turning us into ticking time bombs. Research shows this line of thought is wrong — not all fat is unhealthy so it depends upon your fat choices.

People living with diabetes have other problems to think about. Diabetics need not only consider fats, but also blood sugars. High blood sugars will, in fact, clog blood vessels over time as well.
Many people believe that “eating fat makes you fat”, but it’s not that cut and dry — extra carbohydrates are stored as fat too — you need to do something with extra calories.

Calorie counting is important, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Looking at calories alone, fats have nine calories per gram while protein and carbs fall in at four calories per gram.

Moderation is always key when managing diabetes, especially when there’s a struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. A caloric end of the day total is important and so is moving the body. Taking in more than is put out equals pounds.

Fats versus Carbs

With Americans following dietary recommendations since the 1970s, we’ve cut fats and increased carbs by “at least 25%”.

The ‘every day’s a pasta party’ mentality has replaced a diet rich in healthy fats. The slippery slope of too many carbs leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

Arguably, regardless of dietary recommendations, as a nation we are bigger and sicker than we’ve ever been. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, more research is needed in the area of what people are consuming when on limited fat diets that may have bigger implications on their overall health.

As our nation struggles with the highest rates of pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, the spotlight falls on the past few decades with nutritional recommendations that wax and wane, typically overpromising and underdelivering.

With your provider’s blessing, don’t eliminate the natural, healthy fats your body needs and craves. Do your homework, meet with a dietician and your primary care provider to be sure healthy fats have a place in your well balanced diet; there’s certainly no one size fits all solution for dietary health.

To learn more about eating fats:

Why Diabetics Should Eat More Fat (and Less Sugar!)
Low Fat Diet vs. Low Carb: Which Works Best?
Dietary Fats: Do You Know Which Types to Choose?