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Six Things Your Employees Don’t Know About Dietary Fats and Oils

Updated: Dec 15, 2021

Fats have a bad reputation. The name doesn’t help. Here are six things your employees may not know about them.

1. Some fats and oils are very good for you.

Olive oil, for example, has many health benefits. It would seem intuitive that employees should know this — and yet your health risk assessment may be telling them the opposite. Olive oil should not be lumped in as “extra fats/oils when preparing food or at the table” as in the HRA below, the most commonly used in the country:

Fat also makes food taste good. If you want your employees to be in a good mood after lunch, not chastising them about their food choices is a start.

Action step: urge your HRA vendor to update advice about fats.

2. “Eating mostly lower-fat dairy products,” as recommended in the HRA above, may be a bad idea.

In order to make processed foods palatable without fat, sugar is added. Many— if not most— nonfat yogurts are major sources of sugar. Hence this HRA advice under “make healthier choices” is also incorrect:

Whatever the harms of saturated fat in general and dairy fat in particular, certainly the harms of sugar are greater. HRAs should not be encouraging employees to eat foods with hidden sugars.

Action Step: In addition to asking them to correct their advice about fats, urge your HRA vendor not to recommend foods with hidden added sugars.

3. Dairy fats may be beneficial for most people’s health.

While it is too early to tell for sure, research is increasingly finding benefits of full-fat dairy. While keeping in mind that other (largely older) research says the reverse and the issue is far from settled, here are a few newer articles and findings for your consideration:

The third article in particular focuses on diabetes risk, which seems to be greater for people preferring low-fat and nonfat dairy. So you might want to make sure that your diabetes prevention vendor and your HRA vendor aren’t presenting controversial, and likely incorrect, anti-dairy data as settled science.

The closing argument for expunging milk from the “unhealthy fats” category is: what do you think employees are going to drink instead? Water? “Drink water” can’t always be the go-to advice. You’ll lose your audience.

Almond milk? Soy milk? Both are full of sugar. Sure, employees could drink the unsweetened versions, but they won’t.

Quite the opposite: Full-fat dairy may not exactly be classified as a superfood, but it certainly should be removed from HRAs as a food to avoid.

Action step: remove dairy from your HRAs as a food to avoid. A bit too controversial to make dairy a go-to food category. And some people can't tolerate lactose.

4. Manufactured oils that are “high in polyunsaturates,” like canola oil, are quite controversial.

While olive oil is one of nature’s most perfect foods (we here at Quizzify put it on everything except pancakes), many “high in polyunsaturates” oils are manufactured foods, and have their detractors. Take canola oil. Canola oil is derived, using quite a number of intermediate steps, from the rapeseed plant. Here is one article extolling its virtues, another more nuanced, and a third that makes canola oil sound worthy of Karen Silkwood.

What’s the answer? The answer is that no one knows for sure. Yet employees assume that the answers on HRAs are correct. Otherwise, why would you be insisting that they complete them?

Action Step: Ask your HRA vendor not to present the benefits of manufactured oils as settled science.

5. In fat consumption, one size definitely does NOT fit all.

Nutritional advice generally assumes one size fits all. Foods are labeled as “healthy” or “unhealthy,” when in reality you can’t generalize, since every human is different. A very small percentage of your employees has “familial hypercholesterolemia,” and should absolutely avoid saturated fat (and even dietary cholesterol). This 1% of your population may account for 10% of your heart attacks.

For the remainder of your population, saturated fat in moderation is probably OK. Once again, as with many things in nutrition (one exception being sugar), no one can say with certainty. And yet wellness vendors do tell employees with certainty to avoid saturated fat.

Here is one article demonizing them, another article with a more nuanced view, and yet a third article advocating them. They can’t all be right. Which do we believe? Let’s just put it this way: credibility-wise, the first is from the American Heart Association, which not too long bestowed a “Heart-healthy” seal upon Kellogg’s Sugar Cocoa Krispies and Froot Loops. (They also thought Frosted Flakes were grrrrrrreat!)

Along with the fact that the information on your HRA might be wrong, one major concern with telling employees to avoid saturated fat is: what will they eat instead?

Action Step: Ask your HRA vendor not to demonize all saturated fats for all employees, but instead emphasize that for most people, saturated fats are OK in moderation.

6. Nondairy coffee creamer is probably unhealthier than actual cream.

The good news about nondairy coffee creamer is that you only use one little packet of it in a cup of coffee. The bad news is, who drinks only one cup of coffee?

Here is some other news. It should probably be called “nondairy coffee sugarer,” because – like most foods that come in a package and aren’t salty – it is full of sugar. (Once again, if you only drink one cup a day, this small absolute amount of sugar shouldn’t be an issue.)

More news. What makes it creamy is coconut oil. You might say: “Oh, coconut oil. That’s a superfood, right?”

Well, not so much. First, the very concept of labeling something a “superfood” is sketchy and vastly overused. Second, even if the label meant something, coconut oil likely doesn’t qualify.

And even assuming – against a majority of the evidence – that coconut oil which comes right out of the coconut has health benefits, by the time Nestlé gets done processing it, it bears only a passing resemblance to an actual coconut.

Action step: Use displays in break rooms to caution employees about the ingredients of coffee creamers.


While some wellness vendors (like US Preventive Medicine, Aduro and Wellright) are indeed grrrrrrrreat, we are happy to review the HRAs from the others to ensure that their advice is up to date.


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