Eat Fat, Lose Weight and Be Healthy
Most of us have grown up with the message that we should eat a low-fat diet to lose weight and stay healthy. Doctors, nutritionists, scientists, the government and the media have all brainwashed us into believing that when you eat fat, it gets turned into fat in your body, it clogs your arteries and raises your cholesterol. The reality is that none of this is scientifically true. It is based on flawed science and the food industry’s desire to make money!
More recently, good quality research has shown us that not all fats are bad and eating the right ones will not make you fat. In fact, eating the right fats is the key to losing weight and staying healthy. We now know that sugars and refined carbs are the true cause of obesity and heart disease – not fats. Carbs turn on the switch that leads to fat storage – the release of insulin. Sugar and carbs are also the cause of abnormal cholesterol. They are also the driving force behind type 2 diabetes, many cancers and even dementia (which some doctors are now calling type 3 diabetes!).
Not all fats are bad and eating the right ones will not make you fat.
The Skinny on Fats
There are many different kinds of fats: some good, some bad and some ugly! And, just to make it even more confusing, some can even be both good and bad depending on the context.
On top of that, foods often contain a variety of types of fats. For instance, butter contains saturated fat, omega-3 fats, omega-6 fats and monounsaturated fat. All of this makes it very difficult to study and understand fat.
Let’s talk first about the chemistry of fats. Fats are basically made up of fatty acids and are classified by how many carbon atoms are in the chain as well as how many double bonds exist within the fat molecule. There are both short and long-chain fats as well as fats with lots of double bonds (polyunsaturated fats) or no double bonds (saturated fats). These different chemical properties give fats different properties and affect how they are used in our body.
Fats are important to many critical functions in the body including energy storage, regulating inflammation, hormones, mood, nerve function, cellular health and more. Burning fat for energy is actually better for our health and it is what our muscles and heart prefer.
The Types of Fat
There are 4 types of fatty acids:
Saturated fats have gotten a bad rap over the years! But the reality is that most of them are good for you and a few others, not so much. Briefly, saturated fats strengthen the immune system, are required to make hormones, are critical for your nervous system and can help decrease inflammation. Dietary saturated fats do NOT raise your blood cholesterol or saturated fats in your blood.
These fats are good for you! Dietary sources include olives, olive oil, avocados, lard, tallow, some fish and nuts including macadamias, almonds, pecans and cashews. They are also found in some dairy and meats.
Eating more monounsaturated fats greatly benefits your heart and cardiovascular system. These fats are rich in Vitamin E and other antioxidants. They improve insulin sensitivity and reduce risk of diabetes and breast cancer, promote weight loss and reduce belly fat.
The only time these fats are not great for you is when they have been highly refined and processed. For example, canola oil. To make canola and other vegetable oils, the plants are exposed to high heat and harsh chemical solvents that are toxic to the body. So stay away from canola and other processed vegetable oils.
There are 2 types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-6 and omega-3 fats. These are considered to be the essential fats. They play a key rol in cellular, immune and hormone functioning. Omega-3 fats make up much of our cellular membranes, regulate insulin function, inflammation and neurotransmitters so they are very important in preventing diabetes, depression, arthritis and auto-immune disease. Sources of polyunsaturated fats include fish, walnuts and seeds like sunflower, pumpkin and chia.
With omega-3 and omega-6 fats, we need to aim for a consumption ratio of 1:1 or 4:1 of omega-6:omega-3. Unfortunately, our modern diets leans heavily in the omega-6 direction because of processed foods, corn, and vegetable oils and conventionally-raised meats. This imbalance causes poor immune function, weight gain and inflammation. So we need to eat fewer of the omega-6 sources and lean towards fatty fish, grass-fed meat and a fish oil supplement.
Trans fats are funny-shaped and not recognized by the body. They are the evil, nasty fats! Also known as hydrogenated fats, they are mostly man-made and found in processed foods, shortening, margarine, fried foods and commercially-baked goods.
These fats have been ruled as not safe to eat and so they must be included on any food labels. There is a move to completely remove these fats from foods but this process has been slow and they likely won’t be out of our food supply for many years.
So What Fats Should You Eat?
It is not about how much you eat (i.e. calorie counting) but what you eat that controls your body’s metabolic switches. Sugar and carbohydrates shift the body toward fat storage. They turn on the switch that leads to weight gain – the release of insulin. On the other hand, fat shifts your body toward fat burning and weight loss. This is not to say that eating a ketogenic diet is for everyone but we can all benefit from adding more good fats into our diet.
My simple breakdown of advice around fat consumption is this:
- Avoid refined vegetables oils like canola, sunflower, corn, etc. as they are high in omega-6 fats and inflammatory
- Choose good quality extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil
- use olive oil for salad dressings and moderate heat cooking
- use avocado for salad dressings, moderate and high heat cooking
- Saturated fats from coconut oil, grass fed butter and ghee are also great options
- Don’t fear animal fat but you must choose grass-fed, pasture-raised and organic
- factory-farmed meats are full of the unhealthy fats
- Eat fatty foods like avocado, olives, coconut, nuts like almonds, macadamia and walnuts, and seeds like flax, chia and pumpkin every day
- Make sure you have some good fat with every meal
- Eat sustainably-farmed and cold water fish like wild-caught salmon, pickerel, sardines, herring, mackerel, etc.
- Take a good quality Omega-3 fish oil capsule (it decreases inflammation, supports weight loss & is helps with brain function)
There is no one diet that works for everyone. The truth is that some people do really well with a very high fat diet and others will do better with slightly more carbohydrates in their diet. To figure out what works best for for you requires trial and error (i.e. trying different types of diets) or genetic testing. But all of us will benefit from including healthy fats in our diets every day.
Food is not just calories. It is information. This information radically influences our genes, hormones, immunity, brain chemistry and gut flora with every single bite. So make sure you are biting into foods that will support your health, energy and longevity.