Vegans and Fat: An Uneasy Truce?

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Dear Fat,

Please forgive me for hating and avoiding you for much of my life.  When those misleading government reports came out about you in the late 70s and early 80s, I totally bought into it.  I mean, they said you would cause heart disease and high cholesterol!  (I couldn’t take that risk, even as a 7 year-old.)  I hope you understand.  Along with most people I knew, I trusted these sources.  Then, I started hanging out exclusively with — I can hardly say it now — Sugar and Refined Carbs.  These two jokers — can you believe it??  I was never satisfied, of course; jealous, scheming for my next “fix,” it was more like an addiction than real friendship.  Talk about betrayal. Root canals, weight gain, bad skin, headaches, moodiness — I blame them!  (I suppose I can’t pin my spiral perms and velour phase on them, but I’d like to.)  It took me years to see them for what they truly are, backstabbers wrapped in pretty plastic.

Anyway, I want to make amends and I hope you’ll forgive me.  We’ve been spending more time together, you and I, and I’m loving it!

Your friend and advocate, Hannah

p.s. are we still on for dinner?

I think we know one another well enough at this point to discuss the F-word.

Most of us have had a conflicted (if not downright hostile) relationship with fat.  Now that we’re tenuously eating fat again, we never know how much is too much, where to get our fats, and how to use it once we find the “best” sources.  Part of this is not our fault.  The information about fats seems to constantly change. One day you read that it’s absolutely essential to gag down a golf-ball size omega 3 supplement with every meal; the next you hear you can’t actually cook with oil, you can only catch a whiff as you lightly spritz it on your filling lunch of 12 lettuce leaves and 4 walnuts.

I’m with you.  I spent years (as in about 20) carefully monitoring my fat intake, until I realized it didn’t seem to matter at all in terms of how I felt or how much I weighed. At this point I am much more attuned to the amount of sugar or carbs on an ingredient label, and most of the time I don’t even read the numbers, just the ingredients.  My new rule is, if I can’t identify or pronounce the ingredients, we don’t eat it.

But I digress. Are you, like me, curious about how much fat (and what kinds) you should actually be eating?  I’m also assuming people are wondering about healthy fat sources here, not the kind found in such technically vegan delights as potato chips and dairy-free scones.

Basically, fat is critical for good health, and, especially if you’re vegan, you need to be conscientious about getting sufficient amounts into your diet. Fats not only make it possible to absorb other nutrients, but they just make our food more satisfying to eat and keep us feeling fuller longer.  Reading about ALA, DHA, EPA, omega-6, and omega-3 makes me just want to bury my head in a box of Krispy Kremes, but I will try to simplify so you don’t have to. You’re welcome!

Studies vary, but from what I’ve read you should be consuming about 1 to 1.6 grams of omega-3 per day, depending on your age and weight. Our bodies don’t produce these essential fatty acids, so we must get them from food. (Trust me, you are getting plenty of omega-6, as it’s found in vegetable oils, but you do need to be aware of your omega-3 intake to offset other, unhealthy fats.)

The best sources for omega-3, aside from fish oil or eggs, is flax seed oil (1 T), flax seeds (1 T ground), walnut oil (1 T), brussels sprouts (one serving = 1/3 amount of omega-3 daily requirement), and avocados.  Hemp seeds, hummus, soybeans, cauliflower, and dark leafy greens also provide omega-3s. I think the best way to ingest flax seeds are ground and in my smoothies or hot cereal. You can also put flax seed or walnut oil on your salad or veggies. [Disclaimer: Your partner may not love you using your coffee grinder for flax seeds, so do this in the dark of night.]

If you’ve been neglecting the lovely brussel sprout, for shame! Give this veggie another try – you won’t be disappointed.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

  • 1. 5 pounds b-sprouts, cleaned, trimmed, and cut in half
  • 2 T olive or coconut oil
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t ground pepper

Stir sprouts with oil, salt, and pepper to coat. Place on cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, stirring once or twice to cook evenly.  Serve with a drizzle of walnut oil if you’re feeling so inclined!  🙂

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