Fats: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

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soybeansThe latest news – which is creating a buzz on Capitol Hill, stealing headlines, and dividing our country into multiple camps – isn’t the 2016 presidential election: it’s the war against fat. How low should we go? Which kind is best? And what are the long-term outcomes of adopting a low-fat, moderate, or high-fat approach?

The mystery surrounding fat, which comes in three forms – trans, saturated, and unsaturated – is out: eat a whole-food, plant-based diet to fast-track your health, attack arterial plaque, and slash the risk of both heart disease and an early death.

New research in the British Medical Journal shows what we’ve always known is true: saturated fats increase cholesterol, which can clog arteries and lead to a heart attack or stroke, and unsaturated vegetable oils, which aren’t as bad, won’t save us from an early death.

While more research is always needed, the answer is clear: we should build meals around plant-based foods and go straight to the source. Instead of corn oil, let’s grill an ear of corn. Instead of soybean oil, let’s stick to the beans. And instead of vegetable oil, let’s choose leafy greens.

Here’s how it works.

Our bodies need two forms of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which we can easily find in plants. One is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid available in dark leafy greens, soybeans, nuts, and seeds, and the second is linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid available in many of the same foods.

To retain an optimal amount of LA to ALA, between 1:1 and 4:1, you can choose foods that already mirror this ratio: leafy greens, in unlimited amounts, or chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts, but in small amounts, such as one tablespoon of ground flax seeds or 1/4 cup of walnuts. Limit consumption of nutrient-lacking, processed foods to further support this balance. Achieving an optimal ratio enables our bodies to regulate blood pressure and respond effectively to inflammation – the root cause of chronic disease.

If this prescription sounds familiar, it’s because a plant-based diet is clinically proven to improve cardiovascular health. It can also save millions of lives, slash more than $1 trillion dollars in annual healthcare costs, and eliminate 70% of harmful food-based emissions, ensuring a healthful future for all.

When it comes to the latest research in diet and heart health, we already have is a one-size-fits-all approach: build meals around plants, especially leafy greens, and pair with whole grains, legumes, and just a handful of nuts and seeds.

The war over bacon and eggs pitted against low-fat breakfast squares is finally over. We can safely stop by the farmers’ market or head to the produce aisle at our local grocery store.

Do you want to learn more about plant-based nutrition? If you live in the Washington, DC area, stop by the nonprofit Barnard Medical Center for free nutrition and cooking classes every Tuesday from 6 to 8 pm. Our next five-class series starts on Tuesday, April 19, and focuses on the best foods for optimal insulin function and blood sugar control.

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January 2023