When Fat is a Good Thing

“Fat” is a word with multiple meanings. Despite the differences between body fat and dietary fat, over the years people have simply been told they are both bad.  Research has uncovered benefits to eating dietary fats such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, found in foods such as salmon, walnuts and avocados. Thus, the strong evidence led to changes in recommendations of dietary fat consumption in the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans1. However, consumers’ understanding of the differences between dietary fats and their role have not evolved at the same pace. To understand where the confusion lies, the California Walnut Commission conducted a survey of more than 1,000 American adults to look at their perceptions of fat and knowledge of the different types of dietary fats.

The survey found that nearly nine in ten people (89 percent) are just as worried, or more worried about consuming dietary fat than they were five years ago, and nearly two in three Americans (64 percent) believe dietary fat is their enemy. One quarter of Americans admit the word “fat” has a negative connotation for them. The word “fat” influences people’s ability to embrace good dietary fats.

When it comes to being able to identify good dietary fats, Americans are most familiar with omega-3s. While 72 percent identify omega-3s as being good for them to consume as part of a healthy diet, fewer say the same for polyunsaturated fat (26 percent) and monounsaturated fat (12 percent). Interestingly, only 11 percent of Americans know omega-3s are a type of polyunsaturated fat. In fact, only one in five (19 percent) say they know which dietary fats are good and bad at all. This shows there is an awareness of different types of dietary fats, but there is a gap when it comes to understanding which fats those are.

There is hope when it comes to changing people’s perceptions of dietary fats. More than four in five people (81 percent) recognize that some fats may be good for them. The first step to embracing good dietary fats is to encourage people to focus on a diet of nutrient-dense foods, and to replace saturated fats typically found in meat and dairy products, with unsaturated fats, found foods such as in salmon, walnuts and avocados. Visit here for tips on ways to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats.

1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
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