Processed Food (6) - Oil/Fat and You
The "O" in SOS is for oil or fat. Many people who adhere to a whole-food, plant-based diet eliminate salt, oil, and sugar (SOS) completely from their diets. There are others who do use some, but not much. The difference is, that some think there are no health benefits from SOS and others think there are. So I'll let you make that decision for yourself.
We could spend a whole post or two (and maybe I will some day) dissecting the many sources of fat and the many types of oils. Here's a pdf I found on line that explains all about fats and food labels. The most important information to look for on a food label about fats is the amounts of saturated fats and of trans fats. You want to avoid both of those.
This post is about processed food and the fact that oil/fat is the second pillar of the trio of ingredients that dominate processed food and make it irresistible, delicious, and so harmful to our health.
Benefits of oil/fat in your diet
Fat does have some good points. It gives you energy, builds cells, protects your organs, helps you produce hormones, and helps you absorb vitamins (A, E, D, K).
Be advised though, we don't need much to meet those needs. Most sources say we should consume 20% to 35% of our daily calories from fat. If that's the case, let me just flat out say, there is too much fat in most processed foods and it is making us fatter and fatter and undermining our health. Food labels usually tell the amount of calories from fat. Pay attention to that.
How and why do manufacturers use so much fat?
Fat is different from its cohorts, sugar and salt. Sugar and salt are known as tastes. They are distinctive and identifiable -- even when they are added as an ingredient to food.
Fat, however, is a feeling. More than a taste, fat serves a delectable function in food. For example, it improves the tasty appearance of food by giving the food a moist, appealing texture. Fat also aids in browning food, fat creates unique flavors, and fat enhances existing flavors and texture of the food by coating the tongue. Also, fats help form a crust on food without overcooking and help you feel satisfied while eating. Yes, fats and oils add textures all their own to foods, and we find that way too pleasing.
For those reasons manufacturers love fats and oils and are reluctant to reduce it in their products. Yes, it is so versatile and helpful as an ingredient, manufacturers load it into processed food to make us love their products more.
Unfortunately, we don't identify fat as being overdone in our food. Rather, we just store it away (on our hips, or thighs, or middle...) for later. As Michael Moss says in his book Salt, Sugar, Fat:
Now, isn't that great -- not only do we need to be careful with the amount of fat we consume, but we also have to remember that fat does not trigger an internal STOP mechanism as salt and sugar eventually do. In fact, manufacturers sometimes lower salt or sugar in a product when it's paired with oil and increase the oil to get to the bliss level because they know the flavor enhancement capabilities of the extra oil will compensate for the decrease in the others.
Here's another quote from Michael Moss that really points out the potency and usefulness (to the manufacturer, that is) of fat.
So you see, we love our chips and pizza and all those good processed foods and what happens. We eat and eat because our brains lose "sight of the fat altogether." Wow, we need a great plan to fight that.
What does fat/oil do to us?
It would be one thing if fat were really good for us. We'd be storing plenty on our bodies and feel great. That's not the case. Although, it has its uses as we discussed at the beginning. Too much fat does lots of harm. Here's a list of the most common effects of eating more fat than we need...
- increased cholesterol
- increased risk of coronary heart disease
- increased risk of obesity, leading to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer.
All three of these include dire consequences for your everyday life. We may get away with eating too much fat for a while, but eventually, it does cause problems.
It's never too late to take control of our processed food intake. Doing so will serve us all well in the future.
be kind - be the change
be the healthiest version of yourself