If your diet is clean, lean and mean, well, good for you – to a point. But if it’s also this side of fat-free then I urge you to please fatten up your diet! Contrary to what your elders may have told you – and what the medical establishment has been espousing for the past 50 years or so – eating a diet full of low-fat processed Frankenfoods as a fat workaround, is not the ticket to health. Although it may sound like blasphemy to those of us who came of age in the no-and low-fat era, it’s time to stop fearing fat and start learning to put it to work for you. Here are a few ways to reclaim the fats that help your body thrive – and why you need to lose the fake no-and-low stuff for good:
Know the enemy.
If you’re looking for the real bad hombres, their names are sugar and processed foods. But wait, isn’t saturated fat bad too? For the vast majority of folks, not so much. It’s a much-needed macronutrient with tons of benefits. If, however, you carry a variant of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene (sometimes called the Alzheimer’s gene or the gene most commonly associated with early-onset Alzheimer’s), you might want to keep your intake on a shorter leash. In my practice I use the 3×4 Genetic test, to test for it, but it can also be checked with a blood test. or even through 23andMe.
For everyone else, however, saturated fat is less of a concern than the Establishment lets on (being largely still stuck in the all- or-nothing, no-fat-is-good-fat mindset). In fact, studies have found that reducing saturated fat intake doesn’t appear to reduce heart disease risk, and cutting it to the bone may have the opposite effect, thanks in part to the processed fillers, like trans-fats, that food manufacturers pump into low-fat products to make up for the fat (and flavor) removed.
Beware the hidden troublemakers.
The trouble with trans fats – the ghastly lab-made substance that’s made when hydrogen is combined with vegetable oil – is that they’re pretty closely linked with elevated risk for heart disease, inflammation, higher bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. The less of it you eat the better. It’s wise to red-line even foods labeled ‘trans-fat free.’ Turns out, they’re not quite what they seem, as each serving can still contain up to 0.5 grams of trans-fats, yet still receive the trans-fat free stamp. Crazy, eh?
Play it safe by passing on packaged snacks altogether to bypass their sneaky trans-fats and inflammatory vegetable oil ingredients. Instead, always opt for real food snacks like raw nuts, a handful of berries, guacamole, fresh hummus with vegetables—you get the picture.
Bottom line: keep your hand out of the snack and cookie jar because digging in for an extra serving or two will cause those small amounts to add up.
Rethink your fat.
All fats are not created equal – some should be jettisoned completely and others, embraced. When it comes to dietary fat, found in both plant foods and animal products, remember, it’s really the type of fat that makes the difference.
So, what to dump without delay? Dump ‘vegetable’ shortening — anything made with partially hydrogenated oils and/or vegetable oils (we’re looking at you canola, corn, cottonseed, safflower and sunflower). Skip baked goods, take a pass on anything deep fried, and just say no to processed snacks like chips, crackers and microwave popcorn, which is where a lot of that trans-fat sneaks in, no matter how health-washed the label may appear.
Trade up to foods with ‘good’ fats, as in the kind you find in olive oil, nuts and avocados. Even moderate amounts of butter or ghee make the cut, ideally, when you buy organic or small producer/ farmers’ market butter made from the milk of grass-fed ruminants, such as cows, sheep and goats.
No joke, your body needs fat.
Though it may seem counter-intuitive, your body actually needs fat to function optimally. This long-demonized stuff is absolutely essential for every function of your body and your brain, which, coincidentally is roughly 60% fat, so in a literal way, the stuff really does help feed your head. Eating good healthy fats helps balance mood, hormones, metabolism and tame hunger highs and lows, while also curbing cravings and brain fog.
On our outsides, fat helps keep hair, skin and nails in good shape, while your innards benefit with better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, boosting immunity and easing digestion. You also get an energy boost because fat provides fuel for your energy-producing mitochondria. And did we mention fat makes food taste good too? The richness and taste of fat makes the food you’re eating more enjoyable and helps satisfy you sooner, providing a natural appetite-taming effect – versus the hungry-10-minutes-later feeling you get after eating a non-fat yoghurt.
Do fat right.
The key to putting fat on your plate is to always think ‘real food’ first, and by that we mean naturally fat-rich, unprocessed foods in their original state. At mealtime, that looks like a small-to-moderate serving of protein, plus plenty of non-starchy or low-starch veggies. Leafy greens and colorful veggies are the simplest and fastest way to fill out your plate. Drizzle with olive oil and dig in. Because they digest more slowly than high-speed carbs like white potatoes, pasta and rice, your hunger-regulating hormones have time to catch-up, and send the ‘I’m full!’ message to your belly and brain, putting the brakes on overeating.
Keep it simple; fat’s less confusing than it looks.
To embrace more fat in a healthy way, table the intricate tracking apps and keep it simple. All you really need to do is add some healthy fats to each meal, always with an eye towards keeping sugars, carbs and starches low. Buy nutritious whole foods (see list below) and focus on eating satiating fats from the healthiest plants and animals possible. Keep anything ‘manufactured’ or that comes in box or a bag (with a multi-year shelf life) out of your body, and you’ll be pretty much in the clear. It’s that simple. Eating this way will streamline your trips to the grocery store – shop those fresh food aisles on the perimeter – and will help keep you feeling and looking your best.