Of all of the nutrition advice that flies around, I think one of the most prevalent for the past 50 years has been regarding how much fat to eat and what kinds. Low fat? High fat? Saturated Fat? Trans Fat? Let’s just say that fats have gotten a bad rap over time, and many people now have a fear of incorporating them into their diet. However, despite the reduction in fats, obesity rates have continued to rise as well as heart disease and diabetes. This is because, with a low fat diet, consumption of processed & refined carbohydrates tends to increase. These refined carbohydrates are what cause inflammation and insulin surges, leading to things like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
For some great in-depth reading on fats and obesity, I recommend these two books: The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and The Obesity Code by Jason Fung. The Big Fat Surprise has great information on the history of how the low
Today I’m going to talk to you a bit about WHY you should be eating fat for the health of your body. I also created a fat cheat sheet for you on what fats are your best choices and which to use for cooking. Download that below!
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3 Reasons To Eat Fat
1. Fat is important for many roles in the body
Fat is an important macronutrient for a reason. It acts as a building block for all cell membranes and hormones in your body! Every cell has a lipid layer around it, and fats are important to the formation & function of all hormones. Fat is also a major source of energy for the body. It is a nice, slow burning energy. If your body is adapted to burning fat as fuel, you are able to pull from fat stores when energy is low (and glycogen/glucose from muscles & liver are used up). This allows you to avoid that hangry feeling between meals and keep your blood sugar steady. Fats are also important to create healthy cholesterol and bile for digestion.
2. Fats are needed to reduce inflammation
A variety of fats are needed to both inflame and un-inflame the body. A balance of fats is needed for proper healing. For example, when our Omega 3 fats are low, healing will be slower or incomplete. There are 2 essential fatty acids in the body: Linoleic Acid (Omega 6) and Alpha-linolenic Acid (Omega 3). Omega 6 fats are pro-inflammatory and Omega 3 fats are anti-inflammatory. Both are important as we need inflammation to to begin healing before it anti-inflames. The problem is that in most people’s diets, there is not a balance of these 2 fats. Instead it is heavily weighted on the Omega 6 fats, as these are the fats that are most commonly used in processed food and in many people’s kitchens. Most people have a ratio of about 1:20 of Omega 3:Omega 6. The ideal ratio is 1:1 (equal parts). To fix this, you need to reduce Omega 6 oils (vegetable oils, seeds, processed foods) and increase Omega 3 oils (olive oils, almonds, avocado, salmon/fish). Getting a better balance of fats will help your body heal itself better & faster!
3. Fats make meals better all around
Let’s be honest…fat tastes good! And it makes our food taste good. Imagine eating a baked potato plain…and then imagine it with butter on it. So much better, right? Or what about eating a dry cut of steak vs. eating a juicy rib eye? But not all fat in food is about taste. Adding fat to food also increases the satiety of the food, making you feel full for longer. Fats regulate the energy absorption by slowing down the absorption of food. This means you don’t get a big blood sugar spike after eating like you would if you just eat carbs on their own. Eating carbs with fat helps reduce that spike, which in turn keeps blood sugar even and reduces insulin. This is why I always recommend balanced eating and snacking. If you need a snack, be sure to get a mix of proteins and fats with any carbs. This is important for balanced blood sugar. Additionally, fats are needed to properly absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, & K. No fat means you aren’t getting as much of these vitamins as you think you are. This is a great reason to add fats to your veggies and to use fat filled salad dressings.
Good Sources of Fat & How to Use Them
Choosing the best fats is an important part of getting the best nutrients both from the fat itself but your food as well (see #3!). There are 4 main kinds of fats I’ll discuss here: Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, and Trans Fats. The first 3 should all have a place in your diet in the correct balance. Trans fats, however, should be avoided. Trans fats are toxic to the body and can not be properly processed in the body. You can find these labeled as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on a label. Thankfully, trans fats do have to be labeled on the nutrition label, which makes them easier to find – but always read the ingredients anyway!
Also note that most fats are a mix of these 3 fat types. For example, lard is an animal fat which might lead you to think it is all saturated fat. But in fact, lard is approximately 45% of monounsaturated fat, 11% of polyunsaturated fat, and 39% of saturated fat, making it higher in monounsaturated fat than saturated!
These fats are very stable and don’t go rancid easily. They tend to be solid or mostly solid at room temperature. They are found in animal fats, butter, other full-fat dairy, eggs, and tropical oils primarily. They are great for hot uses/cooking since they are stable.
My favorite saturated fats to cook with: Unrefined coconut oil, Butter, Ghee, Tallow, & Unrefined Palm Oil.
These fats are relatively stable and also don’t go rancid easily. They tend to be liquid at room temp. Monounsaturated fats are good for lower temp heating for a short period, or for cold uses. Your best bet is using a saturated fat for most hot
My favorite monounsaturated fats to cook with: Olive Oil & Avocado Oil
These fats tend to be more unstable and can go rancid more easily. They are always liquid. Because they are less stable, it is not recommended to use heat with polyunsaturated fats. They are great for cold use though! These fats are found in flax, nuts, and seeds.
My favorite unsaturated fats to eat: Flaxseed Oil or Walnut Oil (though honestly I don’t use these much at all…I tend to just get my Polyunsaturated fats from nuts & seeds I eat and I use saturated & monounsaturated fats for my fat/oil use.)
So what about vegetable oils?
Common vegetable oils like canola, corn, soybean, sunflower, etc. are primarily polyunsaturated and are highly refined. The processing of these oils
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Be sure to download your Healthy Fats Cheat Sheet above to keep as a reference for choosing and cooking with fats!