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Fat Finds Favor on U.S. Tables Again

January 11, 2017

Attitudes about fat are experiencing a sea change in the country, but the transformation is only very slowly reflected in official government advice. Take avocado toast, one of the biggest wholesome-food trends of the decade. It took until last month for the Food and Drug Administration to say that avocados can be labeled “healthy.” The fruit previously didn’t qualify — because it had too much fat.

In recent years, many prominent scientists, journalists and diet gurus have been sounding the alarm that our decades-long obsession with swapping carbs for fat is only making America more unhealthy, and that the government has overplayed the role of dietary fat in heart disease and obesity, among other chronic illnesses. Like almost everything in nutrition science, the issues are far from settled, but the new ideas about fat are taking root in grocery shopping.

“Avoidance of traditional health-related attributes like fat or cholesterol are waning,” says David Portalatin, vice president and industry analyst of the market research company NPD Group.

The percentage of adults who checked food labels for total fat decreased from 46 percent to 31 percent between 2006 and 2015, Portalatin found. The percentage who checked for calories and sodium also dropped, while the percentage who checked labels for sugar held steady at 41 percent.

Petaluma dairy producer Clover Stornetta Farms saw that trend play out in sales of organic full-fat milk, yogurt and other dairy products, which saw double-digit increases in 2015 and 2016. Because organic products are typically bought by more health-conscious shoppers, the attraction to these products is probably due to the fact that they are less processed, as low-fat products have more ingredients added when the fat is removed, director of marketing Kristel Corson says.

In response, the company is launching a new line of full-fat Greek yogurts and will soon introduce a European-style butter, which has a higher percentage of fat than the standard kind.

Another reason many people are returning to full-fat products is their increased satiety, in ways we often don’t even fully realize. As Bay Area food scientist Ali Bouzari writes in his new book, “Ingredient: Unveiling the Essential Elements of Food,” it’s actually aroma — the building block of flavor — that is carried by fat more than flavor itself.

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