Eating foods that contain a variety of fats is a surefire way to have delicious meals, support health, and achieve optimal body composition. But if you grew up with the low-fat guidelines or heard evil rumors about what saturated fat would do to you, you might be a little confused about how to optimize fat intake.
Don’t worry. There’s abundant evidence that fat is good for you when eaten in the correct ratios. The key is to choose natural fat sources, go for variety, and think about fat within the context of the other two macronutrients, protein and carbs. This may sound complicated, but this article will give you practical tips for doing so.
#1: Avoid processed foods: This is a simple way to get trans fats and vegetable fats out of your diet.
Fats you need to avoid are trans fats, which are “man-made” fats that have been chemically altered. They include partially hydrogenated oils and eating of them has been closely linked to development of a number of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and neurological problems.
Common ones are partially hydrogenated rapeseed, soybean, or cottonseed oil. They pop up in peanut butter, cereal, crackers, and other processed foods—especially baked goods like cookies.
Because of the backlash against trans fats, many processed food companies have taken to using fully hydrogenated oil, which also needs to be avoided because these have been chemically altered as well.
Removing processed foods has added benefits: It reduces refined vegetable oils, such as canola, corn, soy, and sunflower from your diet. These oils are heated, washed, and treated with the chemical hexane before making it into your favorite chips, cookies, or cereal. These oils are also easily destroyed by oxidation, which is harmful to the body, producing oxidative stress and causing inflammation.
Bonus Tip: Even if a food says it’s “trans-fat free” it can still contain less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving. Check ingredient labels for the words “partially hydrogenated.”
#2: Eat foods that contain omega-3 fats EPA and DHA frequently: Fish, grass-fed meat, and dairy.
You shouldn’t be surprised that the fat derived from fish is extremely important for a healthy body. The omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, support body composition because they are incorporated into the outside lipid layer of cells. This improves insulin signaling to the cells, which allows for a better metabolism.
Other benefits of diets higher in omega-3 fats are brain protection and lower inflammation, allowing for decreased cancer and heart disease risk.
Besides fish, other good sources of omega-3s are pasture-raised beef, pork, and organic dairy. Other organic meats also provide omega-3s, although, the ratio to other types of fat is not as favorable. If you can get your hands on them, wild meats like buffalo and elk are also high in omega-3s.
Bonus Tip: If you use fish oil for omega-3s capsules, make sure it’s not rancid or oxidized by getting it from a source that guarantees the purity. When you open a new bottle, literally take a capsule and chew it up. If it tastes a little bit acidic, rancid or nasty, it’s probably been oxidized. If it’s safe, it will taste fairly bland.
#3: Eat saturated fat in reasonable quantities daily: Butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil.
Saturated fat has been vindicated from being a primary cause of heart disease in recent studies and eating it in reasonable quantities is protective for health.
Coconut and red palm oil are saturated fats that are high in medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is a superior antioxidant that eradicates inflammation in the body. These foods also boost metabolism and stimulates the thyroid. For example, a recent study found that when Malayans ate 30 ml of native coconut oil with each meal for a month they lost a small amount of body fat (about 1 pound) and significantly decreased waist circumference.
Butter is another nutritious fat and the most nutritious is from grass-fed cows. It contains the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, and K in a form that is easily used by the body. It also contains (MCTs), which are anti-inflammatory, and CLA, a potent cancer fighter that aids in muscle development.
Bonus Tip: Try cooking with saturated fats in place of vegetable oils or olive oil, which are easily oxidized at high temperatures. Use olive oil on low heat and in salad dressings.
#4: Always opt for variety when it comes to fat intake: Eat plenty of seeds, nuts, olive oil, and avocado.
Avocado, olive oil, and tree nuts have all been called “anti-obesity” foods by food scientists. They all provide omega-6 fats, which when eaten in balance with omega-3s, are very good for you.
There’s much confusion about omega-6 fats because the typical Western diet is dangerously high in isolated, processed omega-6 fats in the form of vegetable oil. Those are fats you want to avoid, but avocado, tree nuts, and unrefined, high-quality virgin olive oil (or olives) aren’t processed and can improve body composition, while countering inflammation. Plus, if you eat any of these fats with vegetables, the fat bolsters absorption of vitamins and nutrients in veggies.
One omega-6 fat in particular, gamma linolenic acid (GLA) is necessary for healthy tissue, giving you nice skin, hair, and healthy joints. It’s hard to get, coming only from evening primrose, blackcurrant seed, borage seed, and hemp seeds, so don’t be shy about eating these unique seeds, or oils from these seeds. GLA can also be gotten in supplement form.
Bonus Tip: To add seeds to your diet, soak them in water with salt overnight for better digestion and then add them to shakes or sprinkle on salads, cooked veggies, or yogurt. Try chia, sesame, cumin, fenugreek, and flax seeds.
#5: Eat fat with protein and plants (vegetables or fruit). De-emphasize high-carb foods.
Planning meals around a protein source that naturally contains fat, such as fish, eggs, or whole-fat yogurt is a simple and delicious way to get amino acids and beneficial fats at once.
You can also bump the fat content up by cooking meats in fat, or adding nuts and seeds to a protein source that is lean or fat free. Adding green leafy veggies or berries provides fiber, antioxidants, and flavor. This combination is filling and allows you to cover all your nutritional bases while avoiding huge spikes in blood sugar or high insulin.
When optimizing fat intake, it’s important to avoid refined and high-carb foods that are commonly eaten with fat, such as toast with butter or eggs. Eating high-carb and high-fat foods together is associated with elevated triglycerides, which means you have unhealthy levels of fat in your blood. High triglycerides contribute to the development of heart disease.
Bonus Tip: Don’t be afraid of eating abundant carbs in the form of green vegetables and other lower carb fruits and veggies.