Sunday, October 16, 2011

Healthy Living Principle #5: Eat More Fat

Welcome back to my Principles of Health Series, to refresh yourself on numbers 1, 2, 3, and 4 check the linked blog posts.  Today we're talking fat and it's importance in your diet.  Newsflash - Fat doesn't make you FAT, it's not 'artery clogging,' and it won't raise your cholesterol.  

So where did the idea that Fat makes you FAT come about?  In summary it started in the 1960s with a study by Ancel Keys called "The Seven Countries Study" in short he had some good science but no convincing results, so he selected data that support his hypothesis that eating fat makes you fat and the myth was born.  The study was sponsored by the US government and adopted into food policy and eventually the food pyramid.  From here the fear of fat was born, and along with that fear, a food industry focused on removing fat from its food source and creating low fat versions of common foods and even working to create new fats to replace the horrible 'saturated' fat that was thought to clog arteries and lead to heart disease. 

Now if you're not supposed to be afraid of fat anymore, what types of fat should you focus on adding back into your diet, and why?

What types of fat should I eat?

  • Focus on eating whole foods and "Good fats" from natural sources like coconut, avocado, olive oil, and grass fed or pastured meats.  
  • Eliminate man made fats, especially trans fats, and anything hydrogenated.  
  • Eat Butter - but make it grass fed,  because it TASTES so much better and it's much healthier for you you can find this at Trader Joe's called Kerry Gold or at Whole Foods,
  • Try Ghee - most commonly known in Indian foods, it's simply clarified butter that is cooked a little longer to give it a slightly smoky flavor.  Clarified butter is butter where all of the milk solids have been removed and only the good stuff (the fat) is left over
  • Don't be afraid of Saturated Fats - they are not artery clogging and are very stable fats that are a great addition to you diet
  • Use a variety of good fats in your diet - some are better for cooking and others shouldn't be heated - varying your fats will give you health benefits and keep your food tasting delicous
  • Try to minimize Poly-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFA) - omega 6s and even the 'good' omega 3s which can be  found in seed oils and nuts.  You need to watch your PUFA intake these since they are highly oxidizable, and when oxidized become dangerous and damaging to our bodies
Diane Sanfilippo from Balanced Bites has a great (and printable) chart that very clearly and easily describes what fats to use for cooking.  When commonly used fats become unstable and risk going rancid when they are heated is something that most people are unaware of.  Some fats are better kept "cold" or not for cooking and other fats are more stable under heat and are better for cooking/baking/heating.  In general the more stable fats are more solid at room temperature - think things like butter, lard, and coconut oil.  As a person that used to cook almost everything in olive oil, learning that it shouldn't be heated has had an impact on my cooking.  I've been experimenting with cooking mostly with grass fed butter and coconut oil, and even on occasion bacon fat - and am finding what fats bring out the best flavor in the foods that I am cooking.  I still use olive oil on occasion when cooking, but when I do I make sure that the heat isn't too high.  I like Diane's chart because its an easy one pager - it also has the types of fats that you should "ditch" from your diet because they are 'fake' and man-made like tans fats or highly processed, easily oxidized, and usually very high in inflammatory omega 6 fats.

Why should I eat fat, what's in it for me?
Notice how cranky and moody you are when you don't eat fat.  People that are chronically on 'diets' and are never eating real, full foods but rather only the fractured no-fat or low-fat versions are always hungry and are never satisfied because they aren't giving their body the fat it needs.  When you eat fat your body feels satiated and you feel satisfied and full, you don't need to eat mindlessly or every two hours because you're giving your body what it wants and needs.

Grassfed Butter chart from

You need fat to fuel you brain - your brain is important, it runs everything.  Your brain runs best when it has fat for fuel.  Be an over-achiever and give your brian what it wants, you'll notice you may even experience some additional mental clarity in addition to eating some really yummy foods.

We need fat from butter, olive oil, coconut oil, animal foods, nuts, and avocados to be able to absorb fat soluble vitamins A, E, D and K. 

Healthy fats:
  • provide a concentrated source of energy
  • are used to build healthy cell membranes
  • are used to build necessary hormones
  • slow down the absorption of nutrients so we feel full longer
  • help us have healthy skin and hair
  • help with nerve transmission, the brain is 60% fat
  • helps calcium get into bone
How do I add fat into my regular diet?

This is probably personal preference, but a good place to start it to think about making sure that you have fat in your meal every time you eat.  Still need some help, saute eggs in fat like grass fed butter or coconut oil, put grass fed butter on whatever veggies your eating,  add olive oil to a salad, add some full fat coconut milk to your breakfast or any time smoothie, enjoy organic grass-fed beef, organic sausage and bacon and eggs -- the list can go on and on, but this should be enough to get you started.  

Remember, our bodies require these fats and when we deprive ourselves of fat we don't have the raw materials that the body uses to be the best body that we can be. Not having enough fat in your diet can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, brain/mood/hormone issues, non-stop cravings and hunger.  Who would have though that a little bit of grass fed butter could help make all of those things better?

Additional Resources
You don't have to take my word for it, there is a lot of information out there about fats, what is good for you, and what you should eat.  Here are some blog posts that if you're interested in learning more about fat that are great resources to check out.

Robb Wolf's revised stance on Fish Oil

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