I smile thinking about fat while filling the gas tank… if my car burnt sugar instead, I would need over TWICE as much for the same fuel! But efficient fuel storage isn’t all fat does– read on to learn why you can stop fearing fat and how to include the right types and amounts of healthy fats in your diet.
What fats do:
Beyond storing energy:
Fat provides fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Balanced fat intake makes cell membranes and supports a healthy inflammatory response, which reduces multiple disease risk.
In fact, your brain is ⅔ fat and needs fatty acids to function.
When we recycle cholesterol we make vitamin D, lifesaving hormones controlling both metabolism and mood, and also bile to support digestion and detoxification.
As you’ve probably realized, a low fat intake can have many consequences, including depression, “brain fog,” dry skin, acne, poor circulation, low and high blood pressure, toxic build-up, difficult menstruation, poor sex drive, unstable energy, bone loss, anxiety, fatigue, inflammatory disease (diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis), and problems absorbing dietary fat. And that’s the short list. Luckily, the antidote to the consequences of a low-fat diet is delicious.
Fats and oils contain triglycerides. We classify food fats by which triglyceride they have the most of.
Saturated fats are mostly solid at room temperature, contain cholesterol, and include animal sources. Butter, ghee, egg yolks, meat, poultry, and crustaceans as well as tropical plant sources like coconut and palm oil too.
Monounsaturated fats include olive, tea seed, sesame seed, avocado, pine nut, peanut, and almond oil.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-6 fats found in meat, poultry, eggs, and brazil nut, hazelnut, grape seed, sunflower, and pumpkin seed oils. A unique anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat called GLA is found in breastmilk, evening primrose oil, and borage oil. Good sources of ready-to-use polyunsaturated omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are found in fatty fish (Wild Alaskan salmon, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, trout and Wild Alaskan Cod Liver Oil too) with lesser amounts in grass-fed meat/dairy products. Most people convert very little of the plant-based omega-3 fat ALA, found in flaxseed, walnut, and chia seed oils, to a usable form, and vegans may benefit from an algal DHA supplement.
Don’t Fear Fat, Respect It!
Because every type of fat in our bodies has a role to play, let’s examine the controversial history of dietary fat since the 1950s. At that time, different lipoproteins such as LDL and HDL were discovered in the blood, and researchers gave animals heart disease by force-feeding them saturated fat and cholesterol. The USDA published recommendations to increase carbohydrate and decrease fat intake while subsidizing the production of grain and vegetable oil sources. Processed food companies got rich making “heart healthy” grain and vegetable-oil products. The “farmer’s breakfast” of protein, fat, and fiber shifted to flour, fruit, and fat-free dairy. Heart disease continued to rise. In the 1970s, researchers correlated low heart disease risk with low fat intake in seven countries. Ignoring consumption of nutrient-dense whole foods in the study, American companies continued to make “healthy” foods with little nutritional value. “Fat-free” meant “high-carb.” As progressive research supported increasing monounsaturated and omega-3 fats, our understanding of inflammation and hormones improved. Better understanding how weight change works, many now use a ketogenic diet that is very high fat and low in carbohydrate for weight loss. We now know that the “farmer’s breakfast” is ideal. Sometimes, sticking with tried and true is best as what’s considered “old” nutrition advice is now current again. Dietitians and progressive physicians today advocate a protein-fat-fiber breakfast and recognize that the food pyramid is outdated. And while carbohydrates may not be appropriate to break your overnight fast, they still play a valuable role in a balanced diet. We must be careful that we don’t repeat the same mistakes in the past and demonize one macronutrient while singlemindedly revering another. All nutrients are essential, and it’s wonderful that fat is now earning its respect after decades of being snubbed.
Smart ways to increase dietary fat:
Focus on quality. Fat can be oxidized (damaged) by heat, light, time, and oxygen. Avoid processed foods with damaged oils. Choose cold-pressed, unrefined, unfiltered, organic oils and raw nuts and seeds and refrigerate them. Except for clarified butter (ghee), choose whole foods first (such as tahini opposed to sesame oil). Avoid heating a fat past its “smoke point,” and if a fat begins to smoke on the stove, that’s your sign it’s oxidizing. Damaged fats make a damaged body.
Some challenges are common when increasing dietary fat. You may have a history of digesting fat and need to add more fat in s-l-o-w-l-y. As you begin introducing more fat into your daily diet try eating some cholesterol to help make bile, eat slowly, and consider taking digestive enzymes (lipases) with meals while you adapt. You’ll know if you need to slow down with your intake or take some digestive enzymes if you have loose, shiny stools. Another tip? Choose more soluble fiber, such as half of a sweet potato, a small apple or pear or some lentils to slow the absorption of fat from your meal.
The Pink Elephant In The Room: Will I Get Fat If I Eat Fat?
A common concern with eating more fat is weight gain. Fat will not make you fat, but sugar can. And the combination of fat and a high carbohydrate diet has been proven to increase hormones responsible for fat storage. In addition to insulin, hormones such as acylation stimulating protein (ASP) and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide (GIP) augment insulin and drive fat storage. Cheesecake, pizza, burgers and fries and all our favorite “fatty” foods don’t make us feel extra puffy because of their fat content. They make us pack on the pounds because they contain a high amount of the lethal combination for weight gain: carbs + fat. To avoid this, as you eat more fat, reduce carbohydrate– less starchy bread, grains, sugar, and fruit. The less carbohydrate consumed with carbohydrates, the less insulin is released, and fat is less likely to be stored. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy carbs – just try to eat them away from high-fat meals. And of course, it’s perfectly fine when those special times come around like birthdays or holidays, and you want to indulge a little bit! After all, what you do once in a while won’t break your metabolism, it’s what you do on a day to day basis that matters.
Additionally, savor your meals. Fat tastes great and promotes fullness– enjoy each bite, put down your utensil while chewing slowly. Relaxing into your meal keeps stress hormones low which is also key for enjoying fat without getting fat. The kind of fat stored in your body loves stress so if you are concerned with how your body will respond to eating more fat it ‘s probably a better use of your time to focus on properly managing your stress and mental chatter than if you should add the extra drizzle of olive oil over your salad or not…
You’ll know you’ve hit your sweet spot with dietary fat when your skin is glowing and clear, your energy, sleep, and mood are stable, your blood circulates freely, fat digests easily, your menstrual cycle runs smoothly, cravings are reduced, and your appetite is stable. Other dietary factors may play a role, but fat is a foundation.
Now that you’ve seen how important fat is for your body and how easy it is to incorporate it, I hope you enjoy a creamier, more fulfilling and delicious life!