One of the first things I address with anyone who’s been eating unhealthy is their fat intake. Many people would assume they need to cut back on their fat consumption. But the FA(c)T is, your body will function better with more fat. There’s a caveat to this; there are good fats and bad fats, and which is which may surprise you. Let’s dig in:
I’m going to talk about why the right kinds of fat are not only good for you, but essential for your health.
What is Fat?
I will start with a little chemistry. If you’re going to skip through any of this post, make it this paragraph. A fat (or lipid) is a carboxyl group (-COOH) attached to a chain of hydrocarbons. When the carbons in the middle of the chain have two hydrogen atoms attached to them, they are considered to be saturated. If they only have one, they are unsaturated. Any point of carbon that is unsaturated creates a bend in the fatty acid. If there is only one bend, they are monounsaturated fats. If there is more than one bend, they are polyunsaturated. See the image below:
Saturated fats are very stable, and are therefore harmless. Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) are also stable. Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are much less stable.
There are two major types of PUFA in the diet (Omega-6 and Omega-3). Both of these become oxidized easily. Oxidized omega-6 in the cell membrane are used by the body as signaling molecules, called eicosanoids. These trigger inflammation and an immune response. However, omega-3 fats are oxidized by the body to counteract this effect. That is why these two have to be kept in balance.
High omega-6 intake has been implicated in obesity, cancer, mental illness, and many more inflammatory diseases.
Saturated fats are largely found in animal fats (lard, tallow, butter), while monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados, and nuts.Omega-3s are most abundant in cold water fish. Omega-6 fatty acids are mostly found in vegetable oils (corn, soy, canola, peanut, etc.); minimize your intake of these.
Finally, trans fats, largely present in vegetable shortenings and partially hydrogenated oils, should be strictly avoided. The only known exception to this is Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), which is found in grassfed animal products.
Why You NEED Fat
In a lean human, fats make up about 56% of the human body, excluding water. There is more fat than protein in your body and the dry weight of your brain is also about 60% fat. This is not by accident. Why might our bodies store so much fat?
You need fat for a number of reasons:
- Fat is an essential building block for cells, nerve insulation, your brain, and hormones which play a huge role in your health.
- Fat is needed to absorb important fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
- Fat helps keep you fuller longer by increasing the release of satiety hormones. This will help you to eat less throughout the day.
- In the right balance, omega-3 fatty acids can have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Fat is a major energy source, providing 9 calories/gram. It is a slower-burning, more sustainable form of energy. More energy + more filling? Sign me up.
- Fat provides cushion to your organs and skin.
- A certain fat, CLA, has potent anti-cancer properties.
While studying at Purdue University, one of my professors published a study showing that we even have a taste sensation for fat, which may indicate that we evolved with the innate ability to determine what foods were vital sources of fat.
How to Incorporate More Fats Into Your Diet
- Cook with fat (This will make your food taste better, too.)
- Best options include lard, tallow, grassfed butter, coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, and sustainably-sourced palm oil.
- Coat vegetables in fat before roasting
- Sauté root vegetables in fat.
- Eat fatty meats
- These are often cheaper and turn out much juicier and more tender
- These meats have more fat soluble vitamins
- Offal (organ meats) is an even better option. These are some of the most nutritious foods available. Liver, heart, kidney, sweetbreads, and tongue may be acquired tastes, but are an invaluable tool to reaching your nutrition needs.
- Eat healthy plant-based fats
- Olives/coconut and their respective oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Eat wild caught fish for omega-3s
- Salmon, tuna, anchovies, and sardines have the highest omega-3 and are most sustainable
- Runner ups include cod, mackerel, and herring.
- 2 servings per week is optimal
- Butter and full-fat dairy (if tolerated)
- Butter is one of the most nutrient dense foods on Earth
- Dairy fat provides CLA’s (remember, these fight cancer)
- Yogurt is great for your intestinal health
In 1976, the lipid hypothesis tragically shifted our thinking on fats. Since then, we’ve changed the entire food system to make “low-fat” dieting easy. It seems like every other product on the shelves is “low fat” or “fat free.” In reality, what happens when they take fat out of something that naturally has fat in it, such as chocolate or cheese, is they have to replace it with sugar and chemicals to regain proper taste and texture thus making us fat and sick. What we have to trust is that nature got it right the first time.
What are the tastiest ways you’ve incorporated more fat into your diet? Let us know in the comments!
Questions about fat or anything else? Shoot us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!