A fascinating new study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that dietary fat is necessary for the absorption of nutrients from fruits and vegetables. In the study, people who consumed salads with fat-free salad dressing absorbed far less of the helpful phytonutrients and vitamins from spinach, lettuce, tomatoes and carrots than those who consumed their salads with a salad dressing containing fat.
This is interesting research, but not necessarily all that surprising. We've known for a long time that healthy fats are a critical part of a healthy diet, and that avoiding fats actually causes chronic disease. The key is in choosing the right kind of fats for your diet and making sure you don't overdo the fats, because fats have a very high caloric density and can add far more calories to your meal than you might expect.
In this study, the focus was on eating salads with either fat-free salad dressing or regular salad dressing containing fat in the form of canola oil. However, these findings apply to far more than just eating salads. Every meal that you consume should contain healthy fats, even if only in small portions. What are the healthy fats? Canola oil is what I consider a neutral fat, meaning it's not necessarily a bad fat, but neither is it considered one of the healthier fats. The healthy fats include extra-virgin olive oil, flax seed oil, and fats from plant sources such as nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts. These healthy fats should be consumed with every meal. Failure to include these fats in a meal will result in many of the nutrients consumed during the meal not being absorbed by the body. That's because many nutrients are fat-soluble nutrients. Beta carotene, Vitamin D, and Vitamin E are three such nutrients that require fat in order to be absorbed and used by the human body, but there are many other nutrients that also need fats for human metabolism.
It doesn't take much fat, by the way, to aid the absorption of these important vitamins and nutrients. Eating just 5 or 10 nuts, or one-fourth of an avocado, provides plenty of dietary fat for transporting these nutrients and aiding their absorption. On another note, it's interesting to remember that for decades the American Heart Association insisted that heart patients should avoid nearly all dietary fat. This was during the low-fat craze of the 1980's and 1990's, when people were running scared from all dietary sources of fat and instead consuming massive quantities of sugar and refined carbohydrates.
We now know that this advice from the American Heart Association was, in effect, causing extreme nutritional deficiencies and actually reducing the life span of heart patients rather than helping them. Such is the case with information from many so-called disease organizations, such as the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Personally, I wouldn't listen to nutritional advice from any association that is so politically motivated and receives funding from pharmaceutical companies, as both of those organizations do.
The other thing to keep in mind with this finding is that if you are supplementing your diet with nutritional supplements or superfoods like the ones I frequently recommend, it's a good idea to do so in combination with a few nuts, seeds, or a tablespoon of flax oil or olive oil. One tablespoon of flax oil will give you about 100 calories, so keep that in mind in terms of keeping your total daily calorie intake under control. By consuming fats as you take these nutritional supplements, you will multiply the effectiveness of the phytonutrients found in those supplements, thereby giving your body far greater nutritional help from the very same capsules and pills.
In other words, if you take superfood supplements without fat, you're not getting the same benefit as taking the same supplements with a little bit of fat. So keep some nuts handy, as I always do, and eat a few nuts with each meal. I highly recommend macadamias, cashews, pecans, peanuts, and almonds, and all nuts should be purchased and consumed in their raw form, without absolutely no added salt or flavors, and with no roasting or cooking. Raw nuts are the healthiest way to go, and will provide you with all sorts of additional beneficial nutrients that go beyond what you're getting in your food.
One more bit of advice about all of this -- if you're thinking that you should start eating your salads with salad dressing because of this new research, be sure to double-check the kind of fat that is in your salad dressing. Most of the cheaper salad dressings are made with soybean oil, and there's nothing necessarily wrong with soybean oil, but it is not the healthiest oil you can choose. It is used by the food manufacturing industry primarily because it's cheap -- it's a cheap source of calories, and it tastes the same as any other fat to most people. But canola oil is better than soybean oil, and olive oil is better yet.
You can also count on any salad dressing you find at national restaurant chains or fast food restaurants to be made with the cheapest oils possible, which would include soybean oil and partially hydrogenated oils, which of course, should be avoided at all costs.