Okay, so we’re not scared of fats anymore. Hooray. But the way we’re eating our healthy fats has become strange and awkward, and it’s a real problem for our health.
Some very real progress has been made when it comes to our fat intake. In years past, low-fat diets influenced people to fear fat because they thought it would make them fat, and fat-free, processed, sugary products flew off the shelves. People were eating loads of powdered peanut butter, reduced-fat cottage cheese, and other nutrition-starved products in attempts to get healthier and lose weight.
The results? A shifty metabolism, thinning hair, and an increased risk of heart disease, inflammation, and even Type 2 diabetes.
We messed up. Bu thankfully, we figured things out. Science caught up and we started eating fats again. We began hailing the Mediterranean diet, generously pouring olive oil, and worshipping the avocado. We started talking about healthy fats, educating ourselves, and closely regulating our intake. Avocado toast got so trendy and people who formerly had shunned the stuff started whipping up chia pudding on the reg.
But now things have gone a bit too far — for two reasons.
It can be seen most obviously on Instagram, arguably one of the most concentrated sources of health-related trends. Dieters track their progress on the social platform. Nutritionists use the app as a method of advertising their wellness beliefs and generating business. Instagram health influencers have become a new sort of celebrity, gaining millions of followers and losing any real privacy to their habits.
Healthy fats are all over Instagram. But here’s what’s wrong:
1. People are inhaling avocados and refusing to eat butter.
The addition of fats to people’s diets has morphed into a new kind of restriction. The only fats people will allow are the “healthy” ones.
“Is that made with avocado or olive oil?” a patron will ask. Once they’re told it was made with lard or butter, that’s it — they won’t eat it. But they will have half an avocado when they get home.
But all fats — unsaturated, saturated, and the like — have health benefits, with the exception of trans-fats. A ‘healthy’ fat is a misnomer; it’s pretty much just all of them.
There’s nothing healthy about eating only certain types of fats and not others.
Yet there are entire Instagram feeds where the only fats in sight are those from eggs and avocados. “Oil-free sautéing” and other fat-restrictive forms of cooking have become increasingly popular alongside controlled fat sources like chia seeds and fish oil pills.
Here’s an example: air-fried (i.e., oil-free) potatoes served with avocado and hemp hearts.
Why not fry the potatoes? Why not add a little butter?
By omitting all fats except those from ‘health foods’ like nut butter and avocados from your diet, you’re omitting all kinds of other nutrients that come from otherwise healthy and fatty foods.
The dark meat from chicken, for example, contains iron, zinc, and selenium, as well as vitamins A, K, and the B complex. But by refusing the dark meat and instead eating chicken breast with a side of avocado, you’re not only being concerningly controlling with your portion of fats, but you’re also missing out on the nutritional benefits that variety has to offer.
2. People are eating way too many healthy fats at once.
You might have seen fat-filled travesties like the avocado bun burger, nut bread, chia pasta sauce...
Healthy fats are important, yes. But fats were meant to be consumed in reasonable, realistic servings. The emphasis on healthy fats has resulted in people loading up on fats and neglecting to eat much else.
For example, here is one blogger’s breakfast.
It’s chia pudding made with cashew milk and topped with some berries, flax oil, almond butter, sunflower seeds, cacao nibs, and a dash of mushroom powder.
The calories in this breakfast are probably 95 percent fats. Where is the protein? Where are the energy-giving carbs?
This breakfast isn’t out of the ordinary, especially for health bloggers. People are listening to the praise of healthy fats and loading up, but not eating much else for energy. Our nutritional recommendations have preached a nice, balanced 30 percent of calories from fat for some time now. But instead, many consumers are eating more like 80.
Instead of shunning fats, we’re shunning carbs.
We’re eliminating gluten.
We’re warning people of sugar, telling them to monitor their intake of fruit.
The healthy fats craze has gone too far. The popularized “healthy fats” are good for us, but so are other foods — and other fats. Watching and limiting the types of healthy fats we allow in our diets is another ‘healthy’ habit we’ve taken to a level that’s just not.
is the Healthy Eating Editor at The Daily Meal with a passion for podcasting and peanut butter. You can listen to her podcast and follower her health food Instagram .