For decades we’ve been plagued by this nutrition misconception: eating low fat foods keep our waists trim and our bodies healthy. I cry foul!
A flawed study 50 years ago let us believe that foods high in fat were making us fat. And I know you’re still hanging onto this outdated belief – grabbing low-fat yogurt, still falling for fat-free promises and shelving that coconut oil as a sometime indulgence. You’ve been holding on too long and it’s time to look at why fat is actually good for you, and why “low-fat” doesn’t belong in your diet, EVER!
The Real Skinny on Fat
Fat is one of 3 essential MACRO-nutrients (in addition to carbohydrates and protein, meaning we NEED it), which the body must have to function properly. Here are just a few reasons fat is so essential in your diet:
- Fat supplies virtually every cell in the body with energy;
- Fat plays a MAJOR role in the production of tissues and hormones;
- Fat is required to create each one of our billions of cell membranes (the exterior of the cell), which protect our cells from harmful materials that enter the body. The cell membrane controls the flow in and out of the cell. Too little fat means not enough structure of your cell, and an increased chance that too much bad stuff is passing through your cell membrane into your cell;
- Fat is ESSENTIAL for healthy brain functioning: it is part of the myelin sheath, which wraps around our brain cells and aids in the transportation of electronic messaging.
- Fat plays an important role in transporting and absorbing the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K through the bloodstream. You can’t absorb these nutrients without fat present, which is why I promote full fat (as nature intended) dairy and pairing a fat source with any food high in these vitamins.
The body requires two essential fatty acids (EFA’s) linolenic and alpha-linoleic acid that are needed to create Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Our bodies need a healthy balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Determining this balance can be complicated depending on our diets. Ideally we need a 1:1 ratio of omega 3:6 fatty acids, but since our diets have an excessive amount of omega 6 from soy, corn, the animals that eat soy & corn and other vegetable oils, we likely have a ratio anywhere from 10:1 omega 6:3 to 25:1 omega 6:3. We need to majorly compensate for this to get back to a 1:1 ratio by massively increasing our dietary supply of omega 3 fatty acid sources such as seafood, flaxseed and grass fed animal fats.
If fat does all this good stuff, why are we so afraid of it?
Well, perhaps there are two reasons some of us fear fat:
- The idea that eating fat makes us fat.
- A long-ago reported, deeply flawed study theorized a link between saturated fat and increased heart disease.
Our fat phobia may well come from the idea that eating fat makes us fat.
Myth dispelled: Most nutrition experts today believe that the body needs a certain amount of healthy fat in order to burn fat more effectively. Fat burns fat! (see more below, not all fats have this great fat-burning effect).
Nutrient-dense whole foods that contain a good portion of healthy fats are more satiating and stabilize blood sugar compared to carbohydrate alternatives. While simple carbohydrates shoot your blood sugar up, causing you to crash and crave later, healthy fats keep you stable, full and satisfied longer. You actually end up eating less, and feeling better for it.
Many low-fat foods have added sugar: when you remove fat you need to add sugar to make it taste good! Insulin rises as blood sugar destabilizes, and these spikes in your body’s insulin levels promote fat storage. Low fat high sugar foods promote fat storage and weight gain!
So have I convinced you, low-fat is actually making you fat?!
Now let’s look at the long-demonized “saturated fat.”
Saturated fat is typically found in animal products, though it is also found in coconut and palm kernel oil.
It is long thought to be an unhealthy fat and it still endures this label on a lot of literature and outdated healthy eating recommendations. For example, the World Health Organization recommends no more than 10% of your diet include saturated fats.
This fear of saturated fat first began in the late 1960s when a study reported that those on a diet of low saturated fat (more vegetable oil, an unsaturated fat), had fewer instances of heart disease. These studies were done on rabbits (animals that are herbivores and do not eat nor know how to process animal products)! New research, however, is coming forward today to indicate that not only was the research flawed (obviously), but our assumption about the danger of saturated fat is in fact unfounded. It turns out saturated fat, especially cholesterol, can protect us from disease – including heart disease – it is an important precursor to all of our hormones, and is necessary to produce the master disease fighting nutrient vitamin D. And, interestingly, while the study hailed vegetable oil as a healthy alternative, we now know that vegetable oil, high in Omega-6, is in fact being so over consumed that it is making us very unhealthy and sick. This imbalance of Omega-6 to Omega-3, remember we need the right ratio here, leads to an increase in all inflammatory diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune diseases and cancer.
Not All Fat is Created Equal
It’s true: not all fat is created equal. And when we say, “Go ahead and eat some fat” we don’t mean to order a plate of fries or pop open a bag of potato chips. Instead, enjoy a variety of foods that contain healthy fats naturally present and avoid foods labelled “low-fat.” They are low in a lot of things – including nutrients.
Let’s look closer at what I mean by good and bad fats. When you over-heat an oil (such as deep frying), it turns into a trans-fat (bad fat), which we know our body has no use for so it will either interfere with our bodies biochemical processes or be stored as fat. This is also true of oils/fats that have been processed, including chips, crackers, packaged and boxed goods which are exposed to lots of heat and light. The most simple rule of thumb is this: fats naturally present from whole foods (including nuts, seeds, meats, dairy, avocado and butter) are good. Fats from processed and fried foods are bad (overheating unsaturated fat = trans fat). It is also important to watch for the level of processing when purchasing oils. Look for the words “cold-pressed,” “small batch,” “biodynamic” “non GMO” and “local.” Another good tip: cook with saturated fats, which are better at high-temperatures, and use unsaturated fats for seasoning after cooking and dressings.
Here are some specific ways you can enjoy healthy fats:
- Enjoy hormone-free, organic poultry and meats from animals raised on grass (grass provides the animal with omega 3 fatty acids);
- Bone broth made from the bones of hormone-free, grass-fed organic poultry and beef (use rendered fat for high heat cooking);
- Eat fatty fish like wild salmon and other wild seafood (a great dose of Omega-3 fatty acids) each week;
Incorporate coconut oil or flaxseed oil into your smoothies and oats;
- Top your eggs or salad with a few slices of avocado, rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats; and a drizzle of walnut, avocado or olive oil
- Add hemp seeds and flax seeds to your salad, muffin mix, oatmeal or smoothie. They contain an optimal blend of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids;
- Enjoy a handful of nuts and seeds anytime you need a snack.
If you want to read more about eating healthy fat, and what it can do for your body, I recommend these sources. And, of course, our weekly meal delivery menu contains a balance of healthy fat sources, including animal fats from grass fed beef and poultry, coconut oil, local non GMO small batch sunflower oil, and plenty of nuts and seeds.