Thanks to the low-fat revolution, a generation of Americans swore by margarine, fat-free yogurt and rice cakes. And now, despite growing up with these refrigerator staples, millennials enjoy recipes like heaping avocado toast, homemade almond butter and omega-3-rich nut-crusted salmon.
But why? When did the grocery store go from promoting ultra-low-fat meals to touting the health benefits of fats? What changed in the world of nutrition?
The revolution happened sometime in the past decade, with influential books like Jonny Bowden and Steven Masley’s Smart Fat, Dr. Mark Hyman’s Eat Fat, Get Thin, and Eat Fat, Lose Fat. The books promoted healthy fats in foods like eggs, nuts, olive oil and avocados. Over the last 10 to 20 years, top health “gurus” and food bloggers began suggesting high-fat, low-refined-sugar diets to boost brain power, reduce inflammation and build overall healthier eating habits.
“Healthy fats” are really called monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats in the medical world. These fats help lower the amount of LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) in the body. Another way of thinking about it is that they help maintain a balance between “good” HDL cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
And they are tasty—which is good, since they’re so healthy for you. Here are a few ways that saturated fats add to a nourishing, well-rounded diet:
Fatty acids may prevent some chronic diseases
Research suggests that the Mediterranean Diet, which is high in extra virgin olive oils and fish, can lower the rate of chronic diseases and support an increased lifespan.
The findings of one 2017 study showed a correlation between higher olive oil intake and reduced breast cancer risk, thanks to the phenolic compounds in olive oil. Some preclinical studies show that n-3 fatty acids play a role in lowering inflammation and have anticancer properties.
Of course, a high-fat diet cannot alone cure cancer, but the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet show that good fats contribute to better health over time.
Good fats help you feel full and satisfied
One major issue with low-fat diets is that food tastes bland. When people eat bland food, one of two things happen: Either they become a bottomless pit and eat more food to try and fill the void, or companies replace fat with large amounts of refined carbohydrates to make them taste satisfying.
Additives like refined carbs are associated with increased risk of metabolic disorders. Another study showed that switching carbs for good, saturated fats also increased the risk of heart disease.
A life without fat can actually interrupt your body’s natural rhythm–in addition to making you more hungry.
Fat helps you absorb nutrients
Have you ever taken a multivitamin only to pee out neon yellow all day? The body can only absorb so much vitamins and nutrients, no matter how much we give it. Fats play an essential role in improving our absorptive power. They help us hold onto vitamins A, D, E and K, which are important for a host of functions including body temperature regulation and cell membrane formation.
In summary, don’t let fat’s bad reputation fool you. It may feel taboo if you’ve watched your mom eat rice cakes your whole life, but go ahead—slice up that avocado and sprinkle some hemp seeds on your next salad.