No fat. Low Fat. Full fat. What gives!? We are breaking down the misconceived perception that fats have no place in our diet.
I don’t know about you, but I was born in the late 1980s, the era of the “Low Fat Diet.” Now I’m not saying at the ripe age of 3 or 4 I was making nutrition choices based on how much fat was in the food, BUT it is a fad that many people still subconsciously cling to today.
"Dietary fat speeds up your metabolism, reduces your hunger, and stimulates fat burning." - Mark Hyman, author of Eat Fat, Get Thin
It all starts with the name, right? I mean, how can fats be good when you don’t want to be overweight/obese aka what our society terms as “fat”? As with most things, they key is moderation. However, dietary fats are essential for our body to function properly.
The Major Roles of Fat
Provides us with energy (it's actually the most energy-dense macronutrient)
Helps make and balance our hormones
Forms our cell membranes
Forms our brain and nervous systems
Helps transport fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K
Gives us two essential fatty acids our body cannot produce (Omega3 and Omega6)
You may be asking, “Don’t saturated fats cause heart disease? Don’t they increase cholesterol levels and clog our arteries?”
Slow on down cowboy! Without getting into too much of the science behind cholesterol there are a couple important points to make.
First, our liver is like the referee of cholesterol. Envision a new team comes in, we eat something high in saturated fat (solid at room temperature), and cholesterol from our food takes the field. Our liver, the referee, will then regulate the amount of cholesterol our body naturally produces to try and find a safe and even playing field. Now, if you are consistently overloading your body with crap - well then, pal, we’ve got other things to talk about. But in it’s simplest role our liver is a Rockstar.
Second, cholesterol comes in different forms. You may have heard of LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and HDL (high-density lipoproteins). The quick and dirty is to keep your LDL levels low as these are known as the “bad” cholesterol and are what is deposited in your tissues leading to plaque build-up. HDL, on the other hand, is termed “good” cholesterol for its transport abilities. HDL removes cholesterol from circulation and from our artery walls and returns it to the liver for excretion. Again, the liver - Rockstar!
Our bodies would not function properly without the presence of cholesterol. The key is to try and reduce the amount of LDL you are taking in with the foods you consume. Foods high in soluble fiber (beans, oats, avocados, brussels sprouts) bind to cholesterol and helps transport it out of the body before it gets into the bloodstream. Also, certain polyunsaturated fats, think your Omega3s and Omega6s (walnuts, sunflower seeds, fatty fish such as salmon), directly reduce LDL levels. The goal is to manage our LDL levels without medication, as much as possible.
Processed Foods: The Evil Contender
Now that we’re done with that little, yet important, cholesterol sidetrack let’s get back to the big question at hand. Why, in the 80s and 90s, when people were following this “low-fat diet” were health levels not improving? Two words, and still the bane of our society’s existence, processed foods. I think it’s safe to say the majority of us here have fallen into the “low-fat” “no-fat” trap that marketers use on their products.
It’s no surprise that the market has capitalized on this mentality where saturated fats, such as the following, are being replaced with highly processed, chemically-enhanced substitutes and marketed as healthy.
Healthy Saturated Fats
Beef, pork and lamb
(although the animals' diet will significantly change their fat type and content)
Full-fat dairy (whole milk, butter, cheese)
More processed foods means significant amounts of added sugars, salts and chemicals are ingested. Guess what team, that shit gets stored in our bodies as well! That’s right, I’m talking about the low fat frozen yogurts, low fat salad dressings, margarine, and fat free yogurts, to name a few. Additionally, since the satiety hormone is one that is released through the consumption of fats, people consuming these “foods” are not as satisfied with the same portion sizes as before and therefore end up eating more.
What we really should be focusing on is...
Am I eating a variety of high-quality, unprocessed foods most of the time?
Am I balancing my fats (saturated/unsaturated)?
Am I slowing down and enjoying each bite?
I really want to reiterate the first point above. (1) A variety of foods - meaning a mix of fats, proteins, carbs and vegetables. Your body pulls different nutrients from each bucket, each with their own special job. (2) Limited unprocessed foods - that means no CRAP (chemicals, refined, artificial, processed). If it comes in a box or package...chances are it wasn’t grown or walking/swimming at some point. I understand cutting these options out of your life FOREVER probably isn’t realistic, so that brings in the last point. (3) Most of the time. Your real food bucket should be heavier than your ‘fake food’ bucket in the scale of life.
Here's a quick cheat sheet to up your healthy fat consumption
Nuts (almonds, walnuts, cashews, peanuts, pine nuts)
Olive Oil and Sesame Oil
Wild-Caught Fatty Fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna)
Seeds (sunflower, flax, chia)
Grass-fed Beef, Pork, Lamb
Dairy (whole milk, cheese, yogurt)
Precision Nutrition – Chapter 6: Macronutrients