Seeing that I treat eating and weight issues, the “F” word I’m referring to is “FAT.” That’s the F word you thought I was referring to, right?!

Well, how is fat defined these days? If we were to look it up in the latest edition of “Webster’s According to the Average Person Dictionary,” the definition of fat would probably be: ‘The substance we have learned to be paranoid of; the component of food we avoid like the plague; the only thing we seem to see when we look at our bodies; cellulite; gross, ugly, disgusting…’ Unfortunately, this definition is highly influenced by the diet industry that has a vested interest in making sure we equate ‘fat’ with ‘bad.’

So, what is fat, really? There are two types of fat relevant to this discussion. One is dietary fat and the other is body fat. A major misconception many people have is that if fat is eaten, it automatically turns into fat on the body. This is NOT true!

Dietary fat is the fat contained in the food we eat. Fat is one of the three main nutrients (yes, nutrients!), along with proteins and carbohydrates, that our cells require for healthy functioning. Dietary fat is necessary to aid in the absorption of vitamins, enhance the flavor, aroma and texture of food, provide for feelings of fullness, delay hunger and help with digestion.

An actual, healthy low-fat diet consists of about 60 grams (that’s no typo!) of fat per day for women and about 75 grams per day for men. That’s low-fat according to the American Heart Association.

It is likely that you will eat more when you decrease fat intake because, first, food won’t taste as good so you’ll keep looking for something else and, second, you won’t stay full long so you’ll eat more because you will be hungry more often.

The body needs fat to function properly, just as it needs blood to function properly. Body fat is necessary for many reasons: It maintains body temperature, protects internal organs, maintains the menstrual cycle, stores vitamins A, D, E and K, cushions bumps and falls, reduces food volume, maintains nervous system functioning, maintains brain functioning, prevents dry skin, lubricates the digestive tract, decreases constipation and bloating, provides energy and gives the body contour and shape.

One of the things people tend to get confused about is how much fat is okay to eat. In our society of extremes, if we are told that 60 grams per day is good, we think that 30 grams or less would be even better. This backfires when fat-restrictive diets end up causing overeating or bingeing.

Our bodies will naturally crave nutrients we aren’t getting enough of. Since fat is a nutrient, don’t be surprised if high-fat foods are all you want when you’re trying to “be good” by eating low or no fat. Think of how much more satisfying eating would be if you let yourself have what dietitians recommend: 25-30% of calories from fat. Foods that cut out fat substitute the fat with sugars, so choose regular fat options.   You will gain weight if you eat too much fat on a regular basis, but you’ll gain weight if you eat too much of anything on a regular basis.

Fat doesn’t have to be your enemy. It is an essential part of healthy nutrition. Think of it this way: If it was true that when you ate fat it turned into fat on your body, everybody would continually grow and expand in size each and every time they ate! Since we know for sure this does not happen, eat healthy – – add fat back into your meal plan.