Don’t Lose the Fat: Why Some Diet Gurus May Have Steered You Wrong

It’s become a mantra. Fat is bad.

At least, that’s what almost all the diet gurus say.

But did you know that when we cut too much fat from our diets, we may be eliminating the very element we need to absorb the vitamins and nutrients that keep us healthy.

That’s because certain vitamins, especially in fruits and vegetables, are “fat-soluble.” In other words, your body can’t absorb nutrients unless enough fat is present.

So if you’re constantly eliminating the fat from your diet to cut calories or to follow the latest warnings, you may be getting far less healthful effects from your salads, other vegetables and fruits.

In studies released in 2004 and again this year by Ohio State University, researchers found that the absorption of carotenoids from yellow, orange, and red vegetables is better when you eat them with some fat. Carotenoids are believed to have cancer-fighting properties.

Here is a partial list of some fat-soluble compounds that may be absorbed better if you eat them with fat:

1. Beta Carotene. This can be found in foods such as cantaloupe and carrots.

The researchers suggest eating salads with full-fat rather than low-fat or no-fat dressings. So if you put carrots in your salad, full-fat dressing may help you to absorb the nutrients.

But with so many people unable to stay on strict low-fat or veggie diets, why not choose something that tastes a little better? For example, something that people in Pittsburgh once called a Boston cooler.

You cut a cantaloupe in half (leave the rind on), clean the seeds out of the middle, and put a scoop of chocolate or vanilla ice cream in the hollow of the half-melon.

Then place the half-melon in a bowl so it doesn’t fall over when you try to eat it. You eat the ice cream and the melon with a spoon.

It’s about 250 calories, but it’s a great snack or dessert. You get to indulge with ice cream, but still get some good nutrients from the cantaloupe.

It’s also filling. So you shouldn’t be as hungry as when you just nibble on a salad.

And the best part is that the fat in the ice cream may enhance your body’s ability to absorb the fat-soluble compounds from the cantaloupe. (Although no one knows for sure at the moment.)

2. Lycopene. This is the red carotenoid found in watermelon, tomatoes and pink grapefruit.

It’s also a potential cancer fighter. Researchers have shown that our bodies absorb the lycopene in tomatoes more efficiently as sauce, juice or ketchup.

Here again, rather than always eating salads with full-fat dressing, why not try cheese ravioli with tomato sauce? It’s a tasty, satisfying dinner.

And you may be enhancing your absorption of the lycopene in the tomato sauce with the cheese in the ravioli.

3. Vitamin E. This can be found in broccoli, mangoes, peanuts and spinach.

Some research suggests that vitamin E can help your heart and possibly prevent blood clots. But the results aren’t conclusive yet.

However, a recent German study with rats showed that eating trans fats actually slowed the absorption of vitamin E when compared to other types of fats. So this may get tricky.

4. Lutein. This antioxidant can be found in dark green, leafy vegetables like spinach and also in egg yolks.

Lutein is supposed to help your skin and your eyes, particularly in reducing the risk of macular degeneration.

I find it interesting that we’re allowed to eat eggs again when the food police vilified eggs for so many years – particularly egg yolks.

Have we also gone too far in vilifying fat?

So before you completely cut the fat from your diet, think about the nutrients you may be missing.

Now I’m not saying we should eat only high-fat foods.

But while it’s not healthy to go to extremes with high fat, it seems as though it’s not healthy to go to extremes with low fat, either.

Maybe it isn’t only the fat that’s making us fat, but also the number of calories we consume. Some moderation in both areas just might do the trick.

And I believe people are more likely to lose weight if they like the foods they eat.

So talk to your doctor about whether you really need to cut so much fat from your diet. Or is it healthy to have a little ice cream or ravioli once in a while?

His answer might surprise you.

Copyright (c) 2006 Debbie Fontana