Fats are one of my favorite subjects, but they are really complex. I tell you this because I don’t want you to get bogged down on the details. As I explain more below, balance is key.
In general, there tends to be fear surrounding fats. Every decade, there seems to be a new trend, whether that’s low-fat, low-carb, or that we need to take a specific vitamin in order to be healthy. USDA food guidelines seem to follow these trends. Recently, healthy fat has become more widely accepted, but people still assume that eating fat will make them, well, fat. They’re also worried that fats will increase their cholesterol levels. I’m here to tell you: FAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU FAT! Fats are an essential part to every diet and play important roles. Not to mention, fat keeps us feeling full and makes food taste better.
Without boring you with the details, the majority of studies on fats are flawed and outdated. What we are finding now is that people are replacing fats in their diet with starch and sugar, which is what’s causing higher rates of cholesterol and heart disease. Studies show that 75% of people who end up in the emergency room for a heart attack have normal overall cholesterol levels. How can this be?! Well, they all have one thing in common: pre-diabetes or diabetes, caused by consuming too much sugar (see my blog on sugar for more information on this!).
So, how much should you be eating? Fat should make up 20-35% (80-100 grams) of your daily caloric intake. Here are some reasons to make fat a mainstay in your diet:
Fat increases satiety. Fat tastes good. If you feel satisfied after a meal, you are less likely to consume more calories. Studies show that people who consume a diet higher in fat often consume less calories in the long run because they feel more satiated. Fat also helps with blood sugar balance, which should be one of your main goals throughout the day. For every meal and snack, do a mental checklist to make sure you have fat, fiber, and protein. If you don’t, make some adjustments. Pro tip: nuts are the perfect addition if you are feeling stumped, as they contain all of these elements.
Fat provides an energy source. It is the most efficient source of food energy. Per gram, fat provides us with 9 calories (as opposed to 4 calories per gram with carbohydrates and protein). More bang for your buck!
Fat provides us with essential fatty acids. Our bodies are incapable of producing omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Balancing your omega 6:3 ratio to as close to 4:1 as possible is one of the best things you can do to reduce inflammation. Try incorporating more omega 3s: salmon, trout, flaxseed, nuts and seeds; and reducing your intake of omega 6s: shortening, margarine, vegetable oils, and processed and packaged foods.
Fat makes our skin healthier. One of the most obvious signs of a fatty acid deficiency is dry, flaky skin. Include healthy fats in your diet for radiant, moisturized skin. Hello fountain of youth!
Fat helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. When our body absorbs vitamins A, D, E, and K, it performs optimally. Add avocado or olive oil to a salad or vegetables to make sure you are getting the most out of your meal.
Fat reduces inflammation. Balancing out your omega 6:3 ratio is one of the best things you can do to reduce inflammation. If you feel like you aren’t getting enough omega 3s, try a good quality fish oil supplement that will give you 3-5 g total fat per day (I like Nordic Naturals).
There is no one nutrient that is responsible for good or bad health. Rather, it’s important to balance the entire diet and make sure your calories are coming from good sources: vegetables, nuts and seeds, healthy fats, and good sources of meat.
The major culprit in the standard American diet is sugar. When the fat is taken out of food, it is replaced with sugar. So that low-fat milk we love to consume contains sugar and low amounts of fat, making our body digest it more quickly. In turn, we end up being hungry again and consuming more food because insulin levels spike and blood sugar levels drop. The same thing goes for any product with high amounts of sugar in it. Make sure you read labels or better yet, eat food without labels.
Studies on fats are numerous and mixed. The over-arching theme that seems to emerge is to get a balance of both saturated and unsaturated fats; balance our omega 6:3 ratio; and limit or omit trans fats.
Sources of healthy fats:
- Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, pumpkin, sesame, chia, hemp, flax)
- Nut butter
- Grass-fed butter and ghee
- Pastured eggs and poultry
- Cooking oils: avocado, coconut, and olive
- Wild caught fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring)
- Grass-fed red meat
Ways to incorporate healthy fats into your diet:
- Add coconut oil to the top of your sweet potato or veggies
- Add nut butter or coconut oil to your smoothies
- Consume avocado with your meal
- Snack on nuts or seeds
- Add olive oil to sauces, salads, or veggies
Danielle’s Breakfast Smoothie
Makes 1 serving
1 cup frozen mixed berries (I like the raspberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry blend or something similar with just berries)
1 cup unsweetened coconut or almond milk (you can buy cartons of this next to the milk. Make sure it’s UNSWEETENED.)
2 tablespoons almond butter (make sure the only ingredient is almonds)
1-2 tablespoons whole flax seeds (I grind mine in a coffee grinder and then add to the blender)
2 cups raw spinach or kale
Fat Does Not Make You Fat by Dr. Mark Hyman
Demolishing the "Fat Makes You Fat" Myth
Healthy Fats by Danielle Cassedy