The Skinny on Fats

“The Healthy Gourmet”

April 1, 2010

THE SKINNY ON FAT — this week we delve into the world of fats, which have gotten a bit of a bad reputation that may not be fully deserved.

Fat is often portrayed as being bad for weight loss and overall health, which in the case of saturated fat has merit.  Saturated fat is proven to clog arteries and cause stroke and heart disease.  But health warnings against saturated fat have somehow been turned into belief that ALL fats are bad and to be avoided.  But the truth is good fat is essential for good health, doing things like transporting vitamins throughout the body, providing a concentrated source of energy, and even cushioning and protecting internal organs.

So what is good fat?  Non-saturated fats, specifically polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good fats.  These fats generally come from unrefined vegetable sources and oily fish – examples are extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, flax oil, soy oil, and walnut oil.  Examples of fish with good fats are salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.

And then to be clear let’s look at bad fat:  Hydrogenated or Trans-fats are the bad guys.  These fats tend to be solid at room temperature and are found in animal meats, chicken skin, lard, butter, and cheese.  These kinds of fats are commonly used in many items found in bakeries (sorry to you bakers out there!) like cakes, biscuits, pies and pastries.  So staying away from too much meat, removing the skin from chicken before cooking, reducing the amount of butter you use, and limiting the amount of baked goods like those listed above are all great steps to a healthier diet.  On the flip side, foods with saturated fats that you should eat in moderation include chocolate (yeah!!!) cheese, yogurt, eggs, lean meat cuts, and chicken without the skin or fat.

What is a good amount of fat to have in your diet?  Obviously your doctor and/or nutritionist will have the final say on what you need, but a general rule of thumb is to have no more than 30% of your daily calories come from fat, which means that a 1600 calorie diet would have no more than 50 grams of fat per day – and of that fat count, a maximum of 1/3, or 17 grams, can be saturated fat.  Note that these numbers are a general rule and may not apply to you if you have heart disease or high cholesterol, or other healthy issues.  Check with your medical team before making any serious changes to your diet, but do be aware of fat types and quantities in the foods you choose.

A tip for weight loss regarding fats:  use cooking sprays whenever possible.  A cooking spray has about 1 calorie per spray, compared to 120 calories per tablespoon of oils.  Cooking sprays can be used in pans on the stove and come in vegetable, olive or canola oil flavors, and there are also baking sprays available that have a bit of “flour” (not really sure what that is in there!) to coat pans before baking.  Just remember the fats you use for baking may be saturated, and plan your intake accordingly.

Here’s a great recipe that provides great protein and fat balance, uses 2 types of good oils plus uses an oily fish, has low sodium content, and incorporates a fresh herb and vegetable.  And it tastes great!

Salmon with Cucumber Dill Sauce              2 servings

2 – 8 ounce salmon steaks (filets)

1/8 teaspoon canola oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large cucumber, peeled and finely diced

1 ½ tablespoons fresh dill, minced

1 Tablespoon red bell pepper, finely diced

3 ½ tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil


Rinse and pat dry the salmon steaks, brush each side with the canola oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place on a broiler pan coated in cooking spray.

Meanwhile, make a dressing by whisking the vinegar and olive oil.  Mix together the cucumber, dill, and red bell pepper, and add to the dressing.  Season with salt to taste.

Broil the salmon 10 – 14 minutes, or until a thermometer registers ~145 degrees.  Place salmon on plates and top with cucumber/dressing mixture.


Calories                                 450

Total fat                               25.65

Saturated fat                       4.21 g

Sodium                                 293 mg