Would you believe me if I said you stand a better chance of dropping pounds and maintaining a healthy weight by using more olive oil? It’s true. Yet if you’re like me, you’re still carrying around false beliefs instilled by decades of guidelines based on sketchy science.
Nearly 20 years ago, when I was practically living on fat-free yogurt and pretzels and feeling oh-so righteous for doing so, I spent a summer on Corfu, Greece. Each time Mama put a plate of oil-drenched vegetables in front of me I’d cringe, thinking I was doomed to balloon. But I left the island lighter than when I’d arrived. Years later, when I started writing articles on healthy fats, I began to understand why eating more fat can help you stay slim.
And yet even after that experience in Greece, even after scouring studies and speaking to experts around the globe, my first reaction is still to shy away from dishes with double-digit fat grams. It’s not easy to banish old habits, but one step at a time I call to mind the facts I’ve learned and move towards reshaping my views for good.
• Fact to Remember #1: Overall Fat Intake Means Nothing to Your Weight. Well, almost nothing. The amount of fat you consume doesn't directly make you gain weight, but there’s no skirting the fact that fat is the most calorically dense food group there is. That means that even though that tablespoon of olive oil in and of itself won’t make you fat, the 120 calories it carries with it will, if you don’t balance it out. A great strategy is to pair up “good fats” (see FFtR #3) and veggies, since vegetables are inherently low in calories, while trimming back on calorically dense meat, starches and dairy for the majority of your meals.
• Fact to Remember #2: Fat Helps Us Maintain a Healthy Weight. This is so contrary to what’s been drummed into us that I, personally, still find it hard to digest at times. Yet it’s a fact. Subjects on Mediterranean and low-carb diets that included a moderate amount of healthy fats from things like olive oil, nuts and fish lost more weight and kept it off longer than those on a low-fat diet. If you think about it, it makes sense. We’re programmed to like fat. Just a drizzle of olive oil or a few slices of avocado make a meal exponentially more enjoyable, and when we take pleasure in something we’re much more likely to repeat it. The good news, as you’ll see in the next Fact, is that we should be eating these kinds of fats.
• Fact to Remember #3: Our Bodies Need Fat to Function. Once you digest the reality that consuming fat isn’t directly related to becoming fat and in fact helps prevent it, turn your mind to the truth that “good fats”—monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—are an essential part of our bodies’ systems, playing a whole host of functions at the cellular level. Monounsaturated fats, like olive oil and those found in avocados, are especially beneficial to our cardiovascular health. Polyunsaturated fats, like the omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, help build brain cell membranes and regulate blood clotting. They’ve also been shown to protect against numerous diseases, from cancer to heart disease to autoimmune disorders. Steer clear of saturated fats as much as you can, though, as they send cholesterol into our blood streams where it can cause problems, and avoid the double-whammy negative of trans fats altogether. A good rule of thumb is to put down anything that has “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated” in the ingredients list.
So what does a healthy view of fat look like? Scroll down to the Grilled Onions with Chile-Nut Paste and you'll see one view. You may think “frying” the sauce would make it less healthy, but all the fats in this recipe are good fats in portions that won't widen your waist. So enjoy to your heart's content . . . literally.