Cheese often gets a bad-rap for being a high-fat food—especially hard, full-fat cheeses like Parmesan. While it is true that cheeses have more saturated fats than plant based foods, they (especially Parmesan, which contains 8 grams fat and 5 grams saturated fat per ounce), provide loads of other nutrients as well. In fact, Parm tops the cheese charts in terms of its bone-building calcium content, providing nearly a third of your daily calcium needs. Ounce for ounce, it has more protein than any other food—and yes, we are including meat and eggs on that list!
You may wonder isn't fat bad for you, but your body needs some fat from food. It's a major source of energy. It helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote health in several ways. They reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels (8). Omega-3 fats are also essential for brain and eye health (9).
These small but mighty seeds are loaded with omega-3s, fiber, protein, essential minerals, and antioxidants. Their popularity as a superfood is well deserved—you can toss a tablespoon into your smoothies for a quick fat, fiber, and protein boost, or soak them overnight for a ready-when-you-wake-up breakfast parfait. You can even use them to add nutritional punch to your desserts.
Polyunsaturated fats can also be healthy. The two main types are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, essential fats our bodies need for brain function and cell growth. Omega-3s are beneficial for every aspect of heart health, and are mostly found in fish and algae, nuts, and seeds. “Other polyunsaturated fats, [omega-6s], can be found in certain plant-based oils,” Hunnes adds. “They’re not particularly harmful, but not necessarily beneficial the way omega-3s and monounsaturated fats are.” Omega-6s work alongside omega-3s to lower LDL cholesterol, but research suggests that eating more omega-6 than -3 may contribute to inflammation and weight gain, so the key is to make sure your omega-3 intake is always higher.
Eating foods with fat is definitely part of a healthy diet. Just remember to choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and balance the amount of calories you eat from all foods with the amount of calories you burn. Aim to eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes intake of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains; includes low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, non-tropical vegetable oils and nuts; and limits intake of sodium, sweets, sugar sweetened beverages and red meats. Doing so means that your diet will be low in both saturated fats and trans fats.
However, many experts disagree with the report’s conclusions on a few fronts. First, the link is based on the reasoning that saturated fat raises total cholesterol levels, but many studies suggest the link between higher cholesterol numbers and heart disease risk has been overstated. And while LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, there are different types of LDL, and the total number may be less important than the composition of the actual particles. Small, dense particles are inflammatory and associated with heart disease risk, while larger particles are not.
Other studies have confirmed the health benefits of following a low-carb diet rather than a low-fat diet. In one study, women lost more weight following a low-carbohydrate diet than a low-fat diet (5). In addition to weight loss, studies also show that low-carb, high-fat diets reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar levels, and reduce triglycerides while raising HDL cholesterol levels (6,7).