MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The long-held view of fat in our diets is that it causes health problems. The trend for decades now has been to eat only non-fat foods or substitutes for fat.

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One registered dietitian says that’s not the case anymore and that we need fat to stay healthy and thin. Christina Meyer-Jax from the University of St. Thomas even went so far as to say that fat is “awesome.”

It seems like people work so hard to get away from it, but fat is actually an essential nutrient needed for human health. Meyer-Jax is working hard to crush that negative fat notion that started decades ago.

“There were a lot of studies done in the ’60s and ’70s that really pointed the risk of heart disease being related to fat,” she said. “And fat also has the most calories per gram.  So people associated that with negative health outcomes.”

Some of those outcomes include, obesity, heart disease and high blood pressure, for example. But that’s not the whole story of fat.

“It’s a great source of calories. Calories, in a good way, are what promote your performance and your ability to do things. It also insulates your body,” Meyer-Jax said.

Fat also gives us satiety, or the sense of fullness or satisfaction you get in what you’re eating.

“Research shows that people who include good fats in their diet in moderation actually consume less calories in a day than those on a high-carb diet,” Meyer-Jax said.

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Avocados and olives are great sources of good fat that will help a salad feel and be more substantial. Oils like olive oil and peanut oil enhance flavor.

“Research shows that when you eat spicy foods that have a little bit of the right kind of oil, you actually eat less,” she said.

Coconut oil is often vilified because there are 12 grams of saturated fat in a tablespoon, but Meyer-Jax says the sort of saturated fat in coconut oil doesn’t adversely affect your blood cholesterol in the way saturated fats from animal products do.

If you’re on the go, try nuts like almonds. They are easy to keep and stay fresh for a long time. You can also take flax seeds for a test drive.

Meyer-Jax also said dairy can be a great source of necessary fats.

“I love this milk from grass-fed cows.  You don’t have to do skim; 1 percent is just fine,” she said.

The key to healthy eating is to eat whole foods as close to nature as possible.

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One side note: there is one kind of fat you should absolutely stay away from, and it’s the kind used in deep-fat frying called transfat. Look for that and hydrogenated oil on labels. If you see that listed, don’t eat it.