Fat is GOOD for you! Ever wonder if you should be eating more of it?
Maybe you have heard the rumors that diets higher in fat and lower in certain carbs can help people avoid hunger while losing body fat.
Maybe the idea that fat is good for you (including saturated fat) is old news and you’ve been enjoying avocados, butter, bacon, nuts, olives, and full-fat dairy forever.
Or maybe you’re still in the low-fat camp. Maybe you just don’t like fatty foods and prefer to feast on vegetables and lean proteins.
The key to eating the right amount of fat is to choose natural fat sources, go for variety and plan fat intake 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: Be sure to eat foods that provide essential fatty acids: Eat fish, grass-fed meat and dairy, and nuts and seeds.
Dietary fat is a very diverse macronutrient and there are a number of types of fats, each with a slightly different fate once it enters the body.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are fats that we must get from food because they cannot be stored by the body. For practical purposes, the EFAs are the omega-3 fats found in fish, some meat, and flaxseeds, and the omega-6 fats found in seeds and nuts.
Studies suggest that the body likes to use the EFAs to make hormones and build the lipid layer of cells. This improves insulin signaling, which allows for a better metabolism.
The effect is that eating the omega-3 fats will raise energy expenditure, leading you to burn more calories than you would otherwise. For example, a study of overweight men found that when they increased their omega-3 intake from 0.43 g/day to 2.92 g/day, they experienced a 51 percent increase in the amount of calories they burned after eating.
Getting a healthy dose of EFAs is associated with less inflammation in the body and a variety benefits including better reproductive function, stronger bones, better skin, hair, and improved eye health.
Benefit: You’ll avoid essential fatty acid deficiency. Symptoms of EFA deficiency are diverse due to how unbalanced omega-3 to omega-6 intake causes inflammation and poor immunity. Symptoms include dry skin, brittle hair, dandruff, reproductive difficulties, digestive disturbance, difficulties losing body fat, and insulin resistance.
#2: Avoid processed foods: Get trans fats and vegetable fats OUT of your diet.
The need to avoid trans fats is old news. So is the wisdom to reduce or completely avoid using vegetable-based oils such as canola, corn, and soy since these oils contribute to the skewed omega-6 to omega-3 fat ratio because they are overly consumed.
Evidence suggests that additional reasons to avoid vegetable fats include the following:
• They are highly processed, typically being heated, washed, and treated with chemicals such as hexane during refining.
• They are easily destroyed by oxidation, which creates free radicals that damage cells and cause inflammation in the body.
• Risk of osteoporosis and bone-related diseases is reduced with a more equal omega-3 to -6 ratio. Cancer risk and obesity rates also go down when fat intake is more balanced.
The simplest way to make sure you’re avoiding trans fats and vegetable fats is to stop eating processed foods. Just get them completely out of your diet—don’t buy them, “cheat” with them, or feed them to your kids!
In addition, it’s smart to choose the least processed natural fat sources for seasoning vegetables and cooking. This means ditch margarine for real butter.
Use cold-pressed virgin olive oil and coconut oil instead of canola or other overly processed oils (see #5 for a guide to which oils to use for cooking).
Get raw nuts and seeds whenever possible and add them to salads, meat and veggie dishes, or whole-fat dairy.
Benefit: Healthier tissues and less inflammation for faster recovery from intense training. Lower risk of diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
#3: Go for variety when it comes to fat intake by eating avocado, tree nuts, and cold-pressed extra virgin oils.
Avocado, olives, and tree nuts have all been called “anti-obesity” foods by scientists. They all provide monounsaturated fats, a boatload of vitamins and minerals, and are rich in fiber. It should be noted that these fats do contain omega-6 fats. There’s much confusion about omega-6 fats.
Some omega-6 fats are beneficial in the diet, you just need intake to be fairly low and have them balanced with omega-3s. However, they are consumed in very large quantities in the Western diet.
For example, a 2011 study of the American diet found that from 1909 to 1999, the average person increased consumption of soybean oil by 116,300 percent and canola oil by 16,700 percent. The ratio of total omega-6 to omega-3 fat intake increased from roughly equal to around 30:1. Other omega-6 oils that are highly consumed include corn, and vegetable oil blends.
This dramatic shift is problematic for health because the large load of fatty acids from vegetable oils are being incorporated into human tissue at higher rates. This reduces cellular health and increases disease risk. It also means the American diet is concentrated on just a few sources of fat, rather than a robust array of the various beneficial fats.
Therefore, if you eliminate processed foods, and the overprocessed vegetable oils, you do need to get a small amount of omega-6 fats in your diet every day. Avocado, tree nuts, olives, and unrefined, high-quality virgin oils are sources that have been found to have various health and body composition benefits.
For instance, separate surveys have found that people who eat more avocados and more nuts tend to have less body fat and a smaller waist circumference.
In addition, diets high in olive oil appear to be protective against heart disease, and consuming more olive oil has been found to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
A less known omega-6 fat, 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.
Benefit: Pair vegetables and other foods with cold pressed oils, nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives to bolster flavor, texture, and improve absorption of vitamins and nutrients.
#4: Eat a variety of saturated fats in reasonable quantities daily: Butter, animal fats, coconut oil, red palm oil.
Saturated fats provide a variety of benefits for health and wellness, and including them in your diet in reasonable quantities is perfectly healthy. Butter, animal fats, and whole-fat dairy provide the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body.
Tropical oils such as coconut and red palm oil are packed with nutrients and provide abundant saturated fat, most in the form of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a unique type of fat that elevate energy expenditure and don’t enter the cholesterol cycle, but are metabolized by the liver and used for energy.
This makes coconut and other fats high in MCTs particularly helpful when trying to lose fat with a lower carb diet. They can help sustain energy levels when muscle glycogen stores are low. Working out with low glycogen is especially painful and a tablespoon or two pre-workout can help boost energy levels for a high-quality workout.
They also improve immunity because they are anti-bacterial and high in electrolytes, such as potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and calcium.
Benefit: Better bone health—the fat-soluble vitamins, especially vitamin K are important for bone health, enabling enables calcium metabolism. Also, elevated immune function and possibly improved body composition.
#5: Don’t damage your fat: Cooking vs. non-cooking fats & how to test for oxidized fish oil.
Saturated fats are heat stable and won’t oxidize at high temperatures making them excellent fats for cooking. Polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil and other vegetable oils are very easily damaged by heat and should never be used for cooking.
Oxidized fat should never be consumed because it damages cells and DNA, increasing disease risk.
This is another great reason to ditch canola and other processed vegetable oils in favor of butter, coconut oil, ghee and other animal fats any time you are cooking with fat.
Use cold pressed olive oil in salad dressings or cold marinades. The same goes if you choose to use other cold pressed vegetable and seed oils (such as avocado or sesame): They should only be used for flavoring and not exposed to heat.
Fish oil is another polyunsaturated fat that is easily oxidized or may go rancid from sitting on a shelf for a long period of time. To make sure your fish oil is safe, get it from a source that guarantees purity, and when you open a new bottle, literally take a capsule and chew it up.
It should taste fairly bland. If it tastes a little bit acidic, rancid or nasty, it’s probably been oxidized. If this is the case, don’t use it—return it or throw it out and complain to the company.
Benefit: Avoid cancer-causing compounds and reduce oxidative stress. Use fat to heal your body, not damage it.
#6: Eat fat with protein and plants (vegetables or certain fruits). De-emphasize high-carb foods.
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. Or a big bun with your burger, or a huge pile of pasta with olive oil or Alfredo sauce.
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. The fact that Westerners have a history of eating a large amount of refined carbs with fats may be the “hidden” reason for high heart disease rates.
Instead of planning meals around carbs and fat, try planning meals around a protein source, a fat, and a vegetable. Choosing a protein food 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 with saturated 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.
Benefit: Better nutrition due to higher nutrient absorption from vegetables when paired with fat. Delicious, flavorful meals, and increased satisfaction.