Healthy Fat: No, It Won't Make You Fat
We are continuing on in my blood sugar regulation series. Today, we are talking about healthy fats, the macronutrient that has gone in and out of fashion more times than we can count!
What society tells us for SURE is that saturated fat is bad and will impact our risk of developing heart disease and high cholesterol.
Unfortunately, this way of thinking is WRONG, dead wrong, and has led us into quite a mess health-wise in society.
On the contrary, fat is essential to life. We need fat for our bodies to function properly. Without it, all of our bodily systems suffer. For instance, fats serve as insulation for the body, aid in nerve transmission, vitamin absorption (aka fat-soluble vitamins), and hormone production.
What about the idea that it will make us fat? This actually isn't true, unless we're talking about trans fats/inflammatory fats (discussed below). What ACTUALLY adds fat to our body is dysregulated blood sugar.
Remember a few weeks ago when I talked about the blood sugar cycle? (Read here) When we have extra glucose in our blood stream and nowhere for it to go, it is converted to triglycerides and stored as body fat. Excess glucose comes from refined/processed carbs.
There are four categories of fats:
-Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
These fats contain a single double bond between two carbon atoms. They are full of health benefits that support all of our bodily functions. As a result, aim to eat more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated fats. Examples include olive oil, most nuts, and avocados.
-Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Containing a double bond between two or more sets of carbon atoms, polyunsaturated fats can be further split into the essential fatty acids category, made up of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Of the two, omega-3 fatty acids are much more health-promoting, as they reduce blood clotting, dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation, aid in the development of brain and eye health, and reduce the risk of developing mental illness. Real food sources of omega-3 include egg yolks, tuna, salmon, cod, crab, shrimp, oysters, and other seafood options. Aim for .5-1.8 grams of DHA and/or EPA per day.
Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are often overconsumed in the Standard American Diet, contributing to inflammation in the body. It is best to limit our intake of omega-6 fatty acids, and aim to keep our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 at 1:1 or 1:2. Most people have a ratio of 1:20 or 1:50! Most all vegetable oils are extremely high in omega-6 fats, which is why I recommend avoiding such oils (like peanut, canola, corn, soy, vegetable, safflower, and cottonseed oils are examples of inflammatory omega-6 fats). Other sources of omega-6 fatty acids include nuts and seeds; it’s best to limit our intake of nuts and seeds (especially if you have a tendency to eat a huge serving at a time)
-Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fats are so named because there are no double bonds between carbon atoms. All of the bonds are “saturated” with oxygen atoms, making them generally solid at room temperature.
These fats have been demonized as terrible for our health for decades (after improper correlations drawn from a few studies back in the 1960s). But if you’ve seen the recent Time magazine cover featuring butter and eggs, you know that we are trying to change our thinking around saturated fat. It does not cause heart disease or contribute to inflammation as previously thought.
On the contrary, our intake of polyunsaturated fats in the form of refined vegetable oils is the source of this inflammation. Therefore, there is no need to fear the butter or coconut oil anymore. As long as your saturated fat sources are coming from unrefined, organic, high quality sources, you will be just fine! Real food examples of saturated fatty acids include butter, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil (my personal favorite!), palm oil, lard, tallow, eggs, meat, and seafood.
-Trans Fatty Acids
I saved the worst for last. Trans fats must be AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS. These fats are man-made and added to food products in order to make them shelf stable. These fats are extremely damaging to the heart and our body in general. However, food manufacturers are sneaky. They can list a product as containing 0 grams of trans fats if the product contains less than .5 grams per serving of trans fat. But even that little bit can add up and be extremely damaging. Instead, look at the ingredient label (which you should already be doing for every product!) and look for the words “partially hydrogenated,” which is code word for trans fats. Sources include packaged foods, chips, crackers, peanut butter (with added oils, NOT peanut butter with only two ingredients, peanuts and salt!), cakes, and margarine.
Let’s take a stop here for a quick rant on margarine. Margarine has been promoted are “heart-healthy,” when actually, it is made from inflammatory, refined oils that harm, not help, your heart! Why would margarine, which is made from chemicals and dyes in a food lab, be better for you than butter, which comes naturally from a cow (and is full of Vitamin A and K!)? My advice? Throw away those spray butters, spreads, vegetable oils, vegetable oil cooking sprays, and other fake butter products and replace them with REAL butter, olive oil spray, and coconut oil. This small change can make a huge difference!
So, when it's all said and done, what are healthy sources of fat and what will they do for us?
Healthy sources of fat to include at each meal:
HOT USES: coconut oil, butter, ghee, bacon fat
LOW-MODERATE HEAT USES: avocado and olive oil
COLD USES: sesame or flaxseed oil
OTHER: avocado, guacamole, olives, full fat coconut milk, coconut butter, shredded coconut, plain full fat dairy, and raw/dry roasted nuts and seeds and their nut butters (no oils or sugar added)
What will healthy fats do for us? I'm glad you asked!
Healthy fats help keep us fuller longer (no more cravings between meals!)
They make up every cell membrane, which supports hormones (sex, adrenal, and thyroid), mental health, and joints
Fats help us absorb vitamins and minerals from the other foods we are eating
Healthy fats increase our ability to assimilate vitamin D (how many of us are low?!)
Manage/prevent diabetes (resulting from imbalanced blood sugar and refined carb intake)
All of these could be broken down further and further into more benefits. The point is: WE NEED HEALTHY FATS!
What fats are considered UNHEALTHY?
Rice bran oil
Partially hydrogenated oils
Fake/"lite" butter spreads
I know – it’s a lot of information all at once, so I’ve complied a quick list of important items to remember:
Eat the majority of your fats from the healthy sources I listed above
Avoid trans fats at all costs and limit your intake of omega-6 fats, especially from vegetable oils.
Do not eat margarine. Period.
Instead of mayo made with vegetable oils, search how to make your own (it’s pretty easy, actually) or try Primal Kitchen Mayo (at all stores or Amazon)
Don’t fear your egg yolks or avocado! I know I sure did back in my low-fat days. These foods are so healthy and full of vitamins and nutrients.
Throw away vegetable oils and vegetable oil sprays. Replace with coconut oil and olive oil.
Read your labels: refined vegetable oils and trans fats are in everything!
There you have it: a short overview of fats. If you take any first step on your journey towards real food, start by switching your fat sources. It will make a huge difference, yet is a small change that is pretty easy to make.
Need more information? See the following websites below:
PDF of Real Food Sources of Fats and Oils - this is an amazing resource to print out and take with you shopping (via balancedbites.com)
The Paleo Mom: Which Fats Should You Eat? (via thepaleomom.com)
As always, if you want to schedule an in person or phone free 15 minute nutrition consult, you can reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule!
You can find a complete PFC balanced guide + my favorite brands list here.