Sunday, May 9, 2010

For Best Results, Just Add Fat

If you snack on carrot sticks or use fat-free dressing on your salads, you’re probably not getting the health benefits you think you are.  Over the years, several studies have shown that the carotenoids – that family of disease fighters that includes beta-carotene and lycopene – need fat to be absorbed. The fat-soluble carotenoids don’t like to go it alone so dip your carrots in some regular or low-fat (but not non-fat) ranch dressing.  Add some cheese or nuts to that afternoon snack of baby carrots. Toss some avocado with your salad. It may be as little as 5 grams of fat that you need to get good absorption. That’s equal to about 1 teaspoon of fat or just a small handful of almonds. 

I think the deeper message here is that we are supposed to eat different foods together for the best results. I often hear of fad diets that tell you to separate out fruit from proteins. Or don’t mix carbs with meat. But it just doesn’t hold up to scientific scrutiny. Our bodies can easily handle mixtures of nutrients. Our intestinal tracts are marvels at orchestrating the vast array of chemical interactions that shuttle the nutrients from meals and snacks into our bloodstreams. There are even times when nutrients help each other out. For instance, getting a good source of vitamin C like sweet peppers or broccoli helps you to absorb a type of iron called “non-heme” iron.

So make the most of those healthy fruits and vegetables by adding in a bit of fat.

Beth Kitchin, MS, RD
Assistant Professor, Nutrition Sciences
University of Alabama at Birmingham

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