Health & Body

True or False: Can You Spot Which Fat "Facts" Are Wrong?

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In the '90s, low-fat diets were as popular as boy bands. But by the early 2000s, the high-fat, high-protein Atkins and South Beach diets had people stocking up on steak and eggs. Now, avocado toast is arguably trendier than *NSYNC ever was, and fat is no longer thought of as a naughty f-word.

But there's still some skepticism around how necessary fats are in a well-rounded diet, particularly among dancers. Before you reach for that grass-fed double bacon cheeseburger, make sure you know the difference between rumors and reality.


"Fat is bad for you."

Thinkstock

False: Fat is an essential nutrient. "Dancers in particular need it to provide adequate fueling for physical activity," says Kim Hoban, RD. "Fats help dancers absorb other nutrients they're taking in, and they aid in fighting inflammation." Plus, omega-3 fatty acids can help to improve focus and concentration—crucial when it comes to picking up and remembering choreography.

Kelly Hogan, MS, RD, CDN, clinical nutrition and wellness manager at the Dubin Breast Center of the Mount Sinai Hospital, adds that fat also helps the body manufacture hormones, which are important for a variety of body functions. "For dancers who are at risk of amenorrhea, including an adequate amount of fat in the diet can help with menstrual irregularities by increasing estrogen levels," she says.

Roughly 30 percent of your daily diet should come from healthy fats. If you're not getting enough, you may experience low energy, difficulty with appetite control, a deficiency of fat-soluble vitamins (like A, D, E and K), loss of your menstrual cycle or poor body temperature regulation. However, too much fat could lead to weight gain and low energy levels, particularly if you're replacing carbohydrates with fat.

"Some fats are healthier than others."

Stocksnap

True: There are several healthy sources of fat. It's smart to fill your diet with avocados, nuts and nut butters, seeds (chia, hemp and flax are best), extra-virgin olive oil, fatty fish (especially salmon, tuna and sardines)and high-quality animal fats (such as grass-fed beef, chicken, organic dairy and eggs).

But avoid artificial trans fats. These man-made fats have no real health benefits. "Trans fats can lower our HDL cholesterol (the good one), raise our LDL cholesterol, increase risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and increase inflammation throughout the body," says Hogan. These fats are found in a lot of processed baked goods, fast foods, frozen foods and margarine—check ingredient labels for "partially hydrogenated oils."

"Margarine is better for you than butter."

Via allrecipes.com

False: The old research indicating that margarine is more heart-healthy than butter doesn't really hold its weight anymore, says Hoban. The spreadable butter substitute was long thought to be healthier because it has no cholesterol and less saturated fat. But some margarine contains trans fats, which have a slew of risk factors (see sidebar on opposite page). Although butter does contain saturated fat and cholesterol, using it sparingly won't have a major negative impact on health.

"I shouldn't eat fat before a show"

Stocksnap

Somewhat true: Fat takes a long time to digest, so having a high-fat meal right before a performance may not sit well. "Fat helps promote the feeling of satiety, though," says Hogan, "and can be incorporated into a pre-dance meal if you have two hours or more to digest."

"Low-fat options are healthier."

Stocksnap

False: "Decreasing or removing the fat from a food like yogurt, for example, means something else needs to be added to achieve a normal flavor and consistency," says Hoban. "Usually that thing is sugar, artificial sweeteners, flavors or other additives—meaning you're not really getting a healthier product by skipping out on the fat."

Plus, Hogan urges dancers to consider the satisfaction factor. "A fat-free yogurt may not feel as satisfying as whole-milk yogurt, and may leave you wanting another snack soon after." The added sugar can lead to a blood-sugar spike, followed by a crash. "That's not the most beneficial if you want a long-lasting energy source for a day of dancing."

Lopez in Circus Polka. PC Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy MCB

When Miami City Ballet artistic director Lourdes Lopez was a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, she missed her opportunity to honor Jerome Robbins onstage. "Every time there was a celebration for Jerry, I was either injured or had just retired," says Lopez. "I was never able to publicly thank him onstage for all that he taught us and the beauty he left us."

But when Lopez was planning MCB's Jerome Robbins Celebration for the 100th anniversary of the legend's birth, she saw an opportunity. She asked the Robbins Trust to allow her to perform the Ringmaster in Robbins' Circus Polka, a role the choreographer originated himself.

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A video titled "Dancers vs. Trump Quotes" went viral last summer, showing dancers taking Trump's "locker-room" talk to task.

Alexis Convento, lead curator of the New York City–based Current Sessions, dedicated a whole program to the concept of resistance, while educator and interdisciplinary artist Jill Sigman has initiated a workshop called "Body Politic, Somatic Selves," as a space for movement research around questions of support, activism and solidarity.

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"They'd never know that I was dreaming of becoming a professional ballet dancer. No one would think, Some day she's going to make it into New York City Ballet," says Ash.

After an inspiring career at NYCB, Béjart's Ballet Lausanne and LINES, the January 2006 Dance Magazine cover star—one of our 25 to Watch that year—is no longer performing. But she's determined to use her dance background to change the stereotypes and misconceptions that people—including black people—have about women of color. "I want to show it's okay to embrace our softer side, and let the world know we're multidimensional," says Ash.

Aesha Ash in Richmond, CA. PC Renee Scott via swandreamsproject.org

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She knew the power imagery can have: She still remembers what it felt like as a student at the School of American Ballet to see a photo of black ballet dancer Andrea Long. "That image was everything on days when I was feeling disenchanted. I'd see that picture of her, and know that the struggles I was going through, she went through them, too."

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Any proceeds she makes from the sales go directly to other organizations that are working to expand ballet in diverse communities. One large donation even led to a pointe shoe fund at dancer Robyn Gardenhire's City Ballet of Los Angeles school—and it helped one dancer who had quit ballet because of the expense come back to class.

Now a mother of two in San Jose, CA, Ash will also start teaching a free after-school ballet class at her daughter's public school next month. "I recently taught at Girls Inc. in Oakland, and one of the little black girls said, 'Are you the ballet teacher?' She just stood there, staring at me with her mouth open, like a unicorn had just walked into the room," Ash says. "You never know the impact you can have just by being a presence."

If you're interested in supporting the project, check out the online shop, or donate directly at swandreamsproject.org.

Dancers & Companies
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Rant & Rave
PC Break the Floor

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