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Traver Boehm: The Skinny on Fat — Is It Good or Bad for You?

Not all fats are created equal, and the good kind is essential for overall health

Nobody in the United States likes fat. I’ll even step boldly out into the light and state that as a country, we’re right smack in the middle of the War on Fat. Much like the other topics that we’ve chosen to go to war on, we’re also not doing very well with this one. Ask anyone in the supermarket what makes you fat and they’ll tell that it’s a no-brainer — fat makes you fat. Or does it?

Ask these same people (who will probably think nothing wrong of downing an entire box of “fat free” cookies) if they know that since the War on Fat began in the late 1980s, Americans have continued to get heavier, more medicated and much, much sicker. So what’s the deal? How come we’re in this situation if we’ve switched over to a “nonfat” diet?

First and foremost, here’s a really good general rule for you: If a product claims to have a health benefit, put it back on the shelf. If something says “fat free,” “high in vitamin C” or claims to make your hair grow back, you’re going to be paying for it on the back end most likely by adding to your back end.

Take a look at an apple and ask yourself where the marketing claims are. Apples have more than 10,000 phytonutrients in them, yet we never see a sign on them claiming so.

Well, how come apples don’t need fancy marketing teams, yet my Cocoa Krispies cereal box says it’s a great source of vitamin D? It’s a great source of sugar, that’s about it. Anyone who has been around nutrition or business for very long is quickly wary of the loudest messenger in the room. The guy who tells you what his net worth is in the first 30 seconds of meeting him is probably full of the same stuff as the above mentioned cereal box.

All right, back to fat. Is fat bad? Yes and no. While we’ve completely demonized all forms of fat here, this has led to some very vital fats being cut from our diets in addition to the extra benefits that those foods bring with them.

Fat is necessary for our proper brain function, to keep our joints and fibrous tissues lubricated as well, but unfortunately not all fat is created equally. There are three main types of fat that we’ll be ingesting through dietary means:

» Saturated fats: These come from fatty meats and dairy products as well as pastries and cakes. Eaten in moderation (that’s the key word) these fats will be digested and used by your body, especially if you maintain an active lifestyle.

» Trans fats: These come from processed and snack foods, and are terrible for you. We don’t need to get into the hows and whys of how they make you sick, but they should be avoided at all costs. You wouldn’t put soda or a bag of chips down into the gas tank of your car, so let’s not do that to our bodies either.

» Unsaturated fats: These are the good guys. Unsaturated fats come from such sources as avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil and the like. These are the fats that your body needs, and in our experience through working with hundreds of athletes at CrossFit Pacific Coast, will not increase your body fat unless eaten in ridiculous quantities. We’ve yet to have someone walk into our gym and claim that the reason that they are 50 pounds overweight is strictly because of their avocado intake.

For a healthy diet and to keep yourself lean, we recommend the following guidelines:

» 1. Cut down on your saturated fat intake. Stop eating dairy products and choose lean cuts of meat or chicken. Avoid processed meats such as sausages and salami. Eliminate baked goods such as cakes, cupcakes and pastries. Desert is great, but you’re an adult now so don’t make eating junk food into a daily habit.

» 2. Make sure to keep the healthy fats in. If you aren’t already eating them, add avocados, nuts and seeds to your diet and make them the replacement for any unhealthy snack choices that you’ve been making.

» 3. Beware of foods that are marketed as “low fat.” Don’t assume that they’re healthy just because they’re labeled low fat. The companies that make these products have to find some way to get them to taste good and stimulate your palate, so the usual routine is to increase the amount of sugar that the product contains. It may be low fat, but you won’t be after eating it.

Fat’s not the enemy here, folks. A lack of understanding and slick marketing have done far more to the collective American waste line than any one food product. Have at it.

— Traver Boehm is co-owner and coach at Crossfit Pacific Coast, has a master’s degree in Chinese medicine, is a licensed acupuncturist at Alki Wellness, and a nutrition specialist. He can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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