Our bodies run on energy. Everything from a work out at the RAWC to a study session requires energy. Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are the three major fuels from which our body draws energy.
Fats have a bad reputation, though. Everyone needs a small amount of fat in their diet for healthy functioning. Oils and fats supply necessary calories and essential nutrients needed for the body to absorb vitamins. Kimberly Green, a registered dietician working at the Health and Counselling Centre says, “Fat that we consume, from added oils or naturally occurring in meats, dairy, nuts, and other foods, have many roles in the body; including the creation of hormones and cells, and the uptake of certain vitamins like A, D, E, and K.”
The necessity of fats and oils does not mean you should eat fast food every day. Fats can be both good and bad so, while necessary, it is imperative to be aware of the choice of healthier unsaturated fats. Saturated fats, a “bad” fat, are commonly found in highly processed foods and are a major component in the Canadian diet (“Fats and oils”, 2017). While processed foods are typically easier to prepare, especially when rushed for time as university students sometimes are, they are not worth the damage in the long run. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, “highly processed foods include hot dogs, burgers, deli meats, cookies, donuts, cakes, chips, french fries, and other snack foods. By avoiding these highly processed foods, consumption of saturated fat will decrease, as well as sugar, sodium, and trans fats” (“Fats and oils”, 2017).
Trans fats are the other highly recognized “bad” fat. They are typically found in deep-fried foods from fast food outlets and many commercially packaged baked goods, such as crackers or cookies. Foods with vegetable oil shortening or partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredients should be avoided as these are products high in trans fats (“Fats and oils”, 2017).
While being aware of “bad” fats is important to healthy eating, it is also important to recognize “good” fats and where you can find them. Monounsaturated fats are a “good fat” and they are known to improve blood cholesterol levels. They are found in canola, olive, and peanut oil, as well as avocadoes, almonds, pistachios, cashews, and pecans. Omega-3 is a commonly known type of healthy, polyunsaturated fat, commonly found in cold-water fish, and is an excellent source of “good” fat.
According to Green, most experts agree that fat on its own does not lead to health problems. Greater concern is related to the increasingly common occurrence of people eating more food than they need. This leads to a greater intake of calories than expended, gained from a combination of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, leading to health concerns.
Students should make sure not to overindulge. While the stress of university can lead to stress eating or rushed food choices, it is important to recognize when stress or a lack of time may be causing you to eat something that will greatly increase your intake of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. While fats are necessary, even the good ones are high in calories, and should be eaten in moderation.
It is important not to rely solely on exercise to counteract poor food choices. Healthy eating goes beyond calories and fat. While exercise is an important part of health, it will not reverse the effects of “bad” fats on your body. When it comes to healthy eating habits, the most important element is balance.
According to Green, a balanced meal includes “a source of protein [such as] meat, fish, beans, tofu, eggs, nuts, a source of whole grains [such as] whole wheat, oats, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and veggies or fruits […] it is important to have at least one fruit and vegetable every day—even better to have it at every meal if possible! The benefits of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fibre from vegetables and fruit are so important, and often lacking in the usual ‘fast food.’”
It is almost impossible to have a perfect diet, and truthfully speaking, eating should be enjoyable. We do not have to eat solely healthy food all the time—we are allowed to cheat sometimes too. But it is important that students are ensuring their diets are mainly filled with the nutrients they need and not just the quick and easy foods high in fat.