When I was first starting out in this field I too bought the doctrine that fat was bad! But I have come to change my tune over the years, now recognizing how critical fat is to our metabolism, nervous system, immune system, heart, digestion, skin. Basically everything that matters.
I’ll never forget the moment when I first started questioning the low-fat dogma. I, like every other health-conscious person at the time, was adhering to my low-fat diet (which also happened to be quite high in carbohydrates) when I met my future husband who just so happened to be French and couldn’t imagine life without butter. Being young and in love I of course followed along with the high calorie, butter laden dinners he was making me. So yummy!! I had sadly forgotten how delicious fat makes things taste.
Fat & Your Health
It wasn’t long before I noticed my clothes getting bigger. I don’t routinely check my weight but decided to check since it seemed odd that my clothes were fitting differently. Imagine my surprise when I saw my weight had dropped!! But how can this be? I was eating more fat.
Later I learned how eating fat actually helps the body burn fat more effectively. Well I was definitely a believer and I’ve never looked back.
Since then, there have been numerous studies supporting the benefits of fat, even for weight loss. Many experts believe that the blame for obesity has been misplaced on fat when really the focus should be on American’s high sugar and refined carbohydrate intake. Consider how the ketogenic diet, which is a low-carb, high fat diet (60% or more fat), can actually help people lose weight.
But what if you have high cholesterol or heart disease? I get this question a lot. Here’s the thing. Bad fats (refer to the list below), refined carbohydrates, and processed foods have more of an impact on your cholesterol and heart health then saturated fat or cholesterol.
Actually dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels in most people. For those people who do seem to be sensitive to dietary cholesterol you will see a rise in LDL (bad cholesterol) levels BUT you will typically also see a rise in HDL (good cholesterol), resulting in little to no increased risk for heart disease.
What about saturated fat? It’s true that some short-term studies have shown an increase in cholesterol with saturated fat intake. However longer-term studies have not supported this association and actually studies on ketogenic diets (low carb, high fat) suggest that not only do they not raise blood cholesterol levels, but they have several beneficial effects on cardiovascular markers.
I know this can be scary if you’ve been a calorie counter and low-fat eater for years. But trust me. Your body will thank you for it. Not only will you help your metabolism re-balance you will also support your brain health and mood, which will help your emotional wellness. You’ll help your skin hydrate and help your bowels move more regularly. You’ll feel more satisfied from your meals and your food will taste yummier!
Of course the types of fat you eat are extremely important. Much like protein, not all fat is created equal.
Healthy Sources of Fat
- wild fatty fish (salmon, sardines, herring, halibut, etc)
- grass-fed butter and ghee
- pasture-raised egg yolks
- avocado (I personally try to eat 1/2-1 avocado every day!)
- cold-pressed olive oil and olives
- extra-virgin coconut milk and coconut oil
- nuts and nut butters: walnuts, almonds, pecans, etc
- seeds: chia, hemp, ground flax, pumpkin, sesame
- grass-fed animal food (poultry, meat, whole fat dairy)
Besides eating more healthy fat it is also important to be mindful about the fats you cook with. This is because when fats oxidize from high heat they actually become toxic and an otherwise healthy fat can now be problematic.
Best Cooking Oils
- Low Heat (<350F): extra-virgin olive oil, butter
- Medium Heat (350-450F): virgin olive oil, coconut oil, ghee, walnut oil, macademia oil
- High Heat (>450F): avocado oil
Fats and Oils to Avoid
- rice bran
- any hydrogenated oil
- any fried oil
Industrial seed and vegetable oils are very high in omega-6s, which can be inflammatory. Some are even toxic, like canola oil, which uses hexane and bleach in it’s processing. High quality, cold-pressed, seed oils (like flax or sesame) can be okay to use raw.
- Clean out your pantry, make sure you only have healthy oils in there and throw out any that have oxidized. If it has a “fishy” smell throw it out.
- Use the right cooking oils for the temperature you’re using.
- Include a healthy fat source at every meal.
Please don’t be afraid of fat! It is a critical nutrient for your health. Stick to the right types of fat and balance it with good quality protein and lots of veggies. Your body will thank you!