Ask the Expert: Can I Really Eat Fat?

More and more experts are saying fat's not bad after all. We asked dietitian Lauren Mayer for her take.

A growing number of nutrition experts are now saying that fat, contrary to years of popular belief, may not be that bad, after all. The opinion is becoming so widespread, even the new nutrition facts label no longer includes calories from fat.

Be that as it may, it can be tough to shake the once-pervasive mindset that eating fat leads to getting fat. We asked Lauren Mayer, a clinical dietitian at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, how you should really be eating.

Question: Can I really ditch my low-fat diet?

Answer: Yes—but don’t go crazy.

The details: “Fat became public enemy number one in the 1990s, when any fat intake was thought to increase weight and heart disease risk,” Mayer explains. “However, when you take fat out of the diet, it has to be replaced with something—which became carbohydrates, namely in the form of refined sugar. What we know now is that refined carbohydrates found in low-fat products are doing more damage than fat ever was.”

So slathering your toast with butter is okay, right? Not so fast. “The media hype around the goodness of fat has caused a complete turnaround from one extreme to another,” Mayer says. “People have gone from fat-free diets to blending an entire stick of butter into their coffee. The days of ’90s fat phobia may be gone, but the [concept] of moderation still applies.”

Confused? Here’s how you should be eating, per Mayer’s recommendations:

“Fat is an important nutrient essential to a healthy, functioning body,” she says. “Including healthy fats at every meal and snacks helps reduce cravings, prevents blood sugar spikes, and decreases overeating. Eating more fat has actually been showed to help people lose weight.”

The key word in that sentence, though, is healthy—and not all fats are. Mayer says nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives are all examples of “good” fats. Trans and saturated fats, like those found in snack foods and processed meats, however, should still be avoided.

The bottom line: “Ditch the low-fat or ‘lite’ processed products,” Mayer says. “Don’t fear fat, but eat fat mostly from plants, and don’t go overboard on portions. Eat a mostly unprocessed diet and include a source of fat at every meal for optimal nutrition and satisfaction.”