A couple days ago, I saw a recipe for a “zero-fat salad dressing” on Jamie Oliver’s website. Hmm….zero fat? Why?
While the recipe was decent, I kept thinking about why it would be advertised as zero fat. I would have understood if it was called “zero trans fat” or “zero processed and refined fats”, but zero fat?
Fats are not the devil. Did you know that eating vegetables without fats means that you’re not going to absorb all the nutrients? If anything, you NEED to be eating fats with your salads.
Ditch the low-fat salad dressings. We need fats to absorb nutrients from our veggies!Click To Tweet
In the last ten years, eating fat has become more acceptable and that makes me so happy! As a nutritionist, one of the first things I help clients with is getting over their fear of fats. Eating healthy fats can help with different things, but many of us aren’t eating enough because of what we were taught in the 90’s (the fat-free decade).
I remember growing up in the 90s without ever having tasted an avocado 😮 . My mother was afraid to eat “so much fat” and I actually thought that eating an avocado was as bad as eating a candy bar! I’m glad those days are over.
While avocados are making a comeback, I will still routinely come across recipes, products and videos that still support the “fat-free” agenda. It needs to stop, people! It’s 2017 – not 1990.
Fat is no longer the enemy (carbs aren’t either, but I will leave that for another post 😉 ). We need good fats in our diet and without them, our bodies don’t function properly.
Why do we need fats?
Fats are needed for:
- energy storage
- proper functioning of the nerves and the brain
- maintaining healthy skin
- forming steroid hormones
- absorbing vitamins A, D, E and K
- formation of cell membranes
- keeping the body warm
That’s just part of the list. There’s also one more thing you can add to that list – absorption of nutrients from veggies. Yes, you NEED to eat fats with your veggies in order to absorb certain nutrients from them.
If you’ve been eating raw carrots/bell peppers on their own as a snack or if you’ve been eating salads at lunch with a fat-free or low-fat dressing, I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t absorbing a good portion of the nutrients in those veggies. It sucks, but that’s what the science shows.
So, what kind of nutrients aren’t absorbed without fat and why? What can you do?
Let’s dig a little deeper! FYI, we’re going to get a bit nerdy for this section, but I’ll break it down and make it as simple as possible 🙂 .
Fat-soluble vs. water soluble nutrients
Most of the nutrients in our food are either fat-soluble or water-soluble.
Water-soluble nutrients such as vitamin C (found in fruits) can be absorbed easily and don’t need to be eaten with fat to be absorbed. For example, you can eat an orange and absorb its vitamin C without having to eat anything else with it.
On the other hand, fat-soluble nutrients like vitamin K cannot be absorbed without adequate fat. For example, if you were to eat green leafy veggies without enough fat, you wouldn’t absorb the vitamin K properly.
It’s not just vitamin K that needs fat to be absorbed. There are many other nutrients in vegetables that won’t absorb properly without fat. I can’t possibly list everything, but here are a few examples for fat-soluble nutrients :
- beta-carotene in carrots, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apricots, etc.
- lycopene in tomatoes and watermelon.
- vitamin K in kale, spinach, mustard greens, collards, etc.
- vitamin E in spinach, swiss chard, asparagus, etc.
- zeaxanthin in broccoli, zucchini, romaine lettuce, etc.
Bottom line? You can’t absorb certain nutrients in veggies without fats.
Ok, so while in theory it this all makes sense, what does the science show?
What does the science say?
In a peer-reviewed study published in 2004 , scientists found that: No absorption of carotenoids (nutrients such as beta-carotene and lycopene) was observed when salads with fat-free salad dressing were consumed.
So basically, if you ate a salad like the one in the study (romaine lettuce, spinach, cherry tomatoes and carrots) without any fat, you wouldn’t absorb any of the anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and lycopene!
That’s disappointing, isn’t it?
The 2004 study was a rather small study, so I wanted to dig a little further to find more research. After all, this website is all about science-backed advice 😉 .
There is a study from 2005  that comes to a similar conclusion. The people in the study that ate salads and salsa with avocado or avocado oil absorbed more nutrients such as lycopene. Another study from 2015  shows that people who ate eggs (a source of fats) with their salads absorbed more nutrients. Fats + veggies = more nutrients absorbed!
The bottom line? Eat your veggies with some fats.
What can you do to add fats to veggies?
For most of us, adding a bit of quality olive oil to salads and virgin coconut oil to cooked veggies will do the trick. But it does not have to be oil. Your fats can come from whole food sources as well (not Whole Foods, but “whole food” as in unprocessed foods!). You can eat salads and raw veggie crudites as well as cooked vegetables with a side of:
- fatty fish
- seeds (such as sunflower, chia, hemp or pumpkin seeds)
- nuts (such as cashews, walnuts, almonds, pecans)
- hummus (made with tahini and olive oil)
- mayo (made without vegetable oil)
Basically anything with good fats is a decent choice to pair with your veggies. 🙂
TAKE HOME MESSAGE
- Ditch the low-fat salad dressings. You need fats to absorb certain nutrients from vegetables.
- Fats can come from many sources other than oil. For example, eggs, fatty fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, unrefined nut/seeds oils and healthy dips like hummus.
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