Fat fears are outdated. Learn how to deftly use all fats—yes, even butter and cheese.
It's hard to overstate how much scientific views about dietary fats have changed in the past few decades—from a time when fat was supposed to take up no more than 30% of your daily calories to now, when butter sales are at an all-time high and research is beginning to question whether saturated fat is as villainous as once thought. The message is becoming more nuanced and food-focused, less nanny state.
For Jennifer McGruther, this month's Healthy Habits hero and author of the blog and cookbook The Nourished Kitchen, the war on fat had a directly personal effect. As a college student, McGruther became a vegetarian and then a vegan, trying to eliminate not only animal products but also as many fats of all types as possible. In her early 20s, however, an endocrinologist suggested that a diet more inclusive of all foods might help her combat several health conditions with which she had been diagnosed.
Today McGruther is an omnivore and an advocate for whole, traditional foods, with a focus on natural sources of fat. Online and in workshops around the country, she shows cooks how to find high-quality, unadulterated olive oils and how to make their own butter.
"I'm trying to reembrace traditions in the kitchen," she says. "We all hear anecdotes about the great-great-grandparents who ate butter and steaks until they were 99 years old. Maybe there's something to how they were nourished in their youth that we've forgotten."
McGruther believes, as we do, that there is a place for all kinds of fats in a healthy diet, even saturated ones. For McGruther, the emphasis is on quality, both for flavor and for health. Better olive and nut oils are richer in disease-fighting nutrients. Butter from grassfed cows may be richer in vitamins A and E.
"When you automatically assume that one food is off-limits, you're abandoning the opportunity to truly enjoy your food and find a healthy balance," she says. "I like to approach things by saying yes. Enjoy a little of everything."
Jennifer's Healthy-Fat Strategies> A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY. "Think about any fat the way you do pepper or salt. If you use too much, you'll over-whelm what you're eating. Use fat in small quantities to enhance your dishes."
> EMBRACE EVOO. "I really like olive oil and tend to use it for salad dressings, dips, and hummus. It's a rich source of vitamin E, and it's also a good source of antioxidants." Sourcing is important, too: "I recommend purchasing from producers who have their own groves and press their own oil." Some commercial oils may be adulterated or contain other types of oils.
> FINISH WITH FAT. "Finishing oils, such as those made from nuts or seeds, boost flavor and help your body better absorb fat-soluble vitamins." McGruther loves to roast beets, finishing them with orange zest and a drizzle of walnut oil. A pat of butter even helps add richness to extra-lean beef—which still results in lower overall fat than using fattier cuts.