Small amounts of avocados, olives, nuts essential part of diet

Foods go in and out of vogue, and hummus dip made from garbanzo beans is now a favorite appetizer at casual dinner parties and potluck suppers.

It tastes rich and creamy and seems like it might contain lots of calories and bad fats, but in reality hummus is made from a nutritious legume and blended with healthy oil.

In consumers' quest to steer clear of any fat in their diet, many people are overlooking foods with fats that are beneficial for their body.

Some people also worry that fruits with sugar should be avoided because they hear sugar is not healthy. While nutrition experts say highly processed products containing refined sugar should be avoided, fruits contain naturally occurring sugar and are loaded with so many valuable vitamins and minerals they are considered cornerstones to a balanced diet.

Many people watching their weight or trying to eat healthy will feel virtuous if they avoid any fat in their diet, but that may not be a wise strategy.

"You absolutely need fat, but you don't need much. The equivalent of two teaspoons a day is good for adults," said Anne O'Donnell, a nutrition instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College and co-chairwoman of the Consumer and Family Studies Department.

O'Donnell notes that foods with natural, plant-derived oils are sources of essential fatty acids, and the oils are good for skin, hair and cell membranes.

Healdsburg registered dietician and life coach Kathy Nichols recommends monounsaturated fats to her clients, and cites olive oil as a good choice for cooking oil and salad dressing.

She's also a big fan of avocados, which contain monounsaturated fats, but says it's important to monitor the quantity because of calories, and suggests eating only about a quarter of an avocado a day.

Avocados are high in important lipids and vitamins, such as folate, B6 and magnesium, and some people don't get enough of these vitamins in other foods, O'Donnell said. Theses vitamins are important for brain function, and can help reduce mood swings and control irritability.

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