One food category where I feel there is just too much information floating about, yet too little real understanding actually happening is, you guessed it right – fats. They are most misunderstood! For starters, they have been branded as bad guys and a blanket ban has been issued. But that is far from the truth. Like other nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fibre), these too are needed by the body. All that you need to do is to choose very wisely. And know the facts from the myths.
Myth: Margarine contains less fat than butter
Fact: Butter and margarine contain different types of fat, but in similar amounts and hence also have an equal number of calories. In fact, butter is usually the healthier option – of course in limited quantities – as most margarines (particularly the hard varieties) although free of saturated fats have trans fats, which increase the risk of heart disease, lower your “good” cholesterol levels and raise your “bad” cholesterol levels just like saturated fats. Secondly, butter contains the usual vitamins found in milk — A, D, E and K and as all these vitamins are fat soluble, the fat in the butter helps your body absorb them well and margarine is generally devoid of vitamins unless they are specially added during production.
Myth: Fat-free is low-calorie
Fact: Don’t indulge in extra-large servings of fat-free foods, especially baked goodies such as cookies, cakes and crackers – these foods may contain the same amount or even more calories than regular versions! That’s because manufacturers usually add other things to compensate for the taste and texture that fats give the dish, and that something is often a sugary or floury substance – empty calories! So in fact, certain foods labelled as low fat may actually be high in calorie because of high sugar or carbohydrate content. Always get the details by checking labels for the serving size and number of calories per serving.
Myth: The ‘cholesterol free’ label means a healthy food
Fact: Cholesterol free’ doesn’t necessarily mean fat free. The food might be cholesterol free but be rich in saturated fatty acids or trans fatty acids, – both of which raise blood cholesterol. ‘Cholesterol free’ is just a marketing strategy.
Myth: Refined oils are better for the heart than butter or ghee
Fact: Every fat, including different oils, has its own composition. Kardi and sunflower oils are rich in PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids), while ghee, butter, groundnut oil and mustard oil are rich in SFA (saturated fatty acids) and MUFA (mono saturated fatty acid). It is recommended that PUFA, MUFA and SFA are consumed in the ratio 1:1.5:1. So, all the three sources, that is ghee or butter (1/2 tsp), mustard or groundnut oil (1 tsp) and safflower or sunflower oil (1/2 tsp) should be consumed in a day for a healthy heart. Too much of any one type can be bad news for us.
Myth: Salad dressing should be totally fat-free
Fact: Salad veggies are filled with terrific nutrients such as lycopene and beta carotene. But these antioxidants are better absorbed with a little help from fat. This doesn’t mean you should drown your greens in a rich ranch or blue-cheese dressing: A small amount of olive oil will be sufficient. Or you can add low-fat cheese, nuts, seeds or avocado.
Kavita Devgan is a Nutritionist, Weight Management Consultant and Health Writer based in Delhi. She is also the author of Don’t Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico). She contributes to the column Kavita’s Korner every Wednesday for this blog.
Follow her on Twitter here: @kavitadevgan