Before I became a Nutritional Therapist I used to believe, like most of us still do today, that foods containing fat simply made us fat, and unhealthy. I would be forgiven for believing it because since the 1950’s, when research came out linking saturated fat and cholesterol with heart disease mass media (and medical industry) have been pushing that message every single day and when you walk into any supermarket you are bombarded with ‘low-fat’, ‘zero % fat’ and ‘fat-free’ products with the low fat food industry flourishing around us. It’s so deeply ingrained in us that most of us cringe at the thought of using lard, and even butter! Some of us even avoid avocados and nuts for fear of getting fat! And we never touch the skin on the chicken!
To totally avoid fat has to be some of the worst heath advice we’ve had over the years! Sadly the message we’ve been given is wrong, that research from the 1950’s that started this whole thing off has been invalidated and saturated fat doesn’t cause heart disease, nor do healthy fat foods such as nuts, avocados, butter, full fat yoghurt, etc, make us fat. In fact, low fat diets have been shown to reduce levels of ‘good’ (HDL cholesterol) and increase triglycerides, which are risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. This is likely due to our over-reliance on carbohydrate foods whilst on a low fat diet as well the hidden sugars in low-fat products.
Since we all started cutting fat from our diets obesity, heart disease and cancer rates have all increased with heart disease being the number one killer in men and women. The rate of Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly is increasing and children are being diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes younger and younger, and all this is despite cutting out fat from our diets. In actual fact low carb diets have consistently shown better results for weight loss than low fat diets and this is because eating lower carbs and not excluding fat has a balancing effect on your blood sugar which means that your metabolism is supported and will work more efficiently for you, burning fat rather than storing it.
So should we all start eating higher fat diets again?
Yes, fat does not make us fat or sick; it is necessary for our health, and for weight management. Make peace with fat not war!
The body simply works better when we allow fat in. One of my aims as a nutritional therapist is to help people to understand this and most of all to accept it, embrace fat, eat it every day, with every meal and snack, and lose the fear!
Sugar and refined carbohydrates makes us fat! Every time we eat a carbohydrate food it turns into sugar in the bloodstream. Our pancreas then secretes insulin (our fat-storing hormone) to bring the sugar to our cells so that we can use it as energy. If we have excess sugar in our body (which we most likely will after any high sugar or refined carb food we eat), it gets stored as fat.
Protein and fat act as carbohydrate “buffers” by keeping our blood sugar level from spiking to high too quickly (which is what causes excess sugar in the blood), and allowing our pancreas to secrete glucagon (the fat-burning hormone). So fat/weight gain isn’t a result of consuming too much fat—it’s a result of too many carbohydrates in too little time, too often. We need carbohydrates so I’m not saying to cut them out, I’m saying to consider your types of carbs, for example you should focus on low sugar fruits such as apples, pears and berries, and vegetables, as your main carbohydrate sources and include whole grains only like brown rice, quinoa, rye bread, and oats, but consume your carbohydrates with a protein and a fat source. This combination helps keep blood sugars stable, allowing those extra fat stores to be burned and the weight to come off. Excess body fat doesn’t stand a chance of being burned if we eat too much or the wrong types of carbohydrates, and don’t include fat and protein everyday.
However, fats are not equal, there are good and bad ones (see below), it’s just about knowing which ones we can and SHOULD eat everyday and which ones we shouldn’t.
Here are some reasons why we must lose the fear of fat:
Fat keeps us full and reduces cravings. Fat is highly satiating and energy giving, it sends a signal to our brain that we’re full which helps us in our quest not to overeat. As mentioned above it helps to slow the release of sugar into the blood stream from a carbohydrate food and therefore helps to balance blood sugar levels, this in turn as a positive impact on reducing cravings.
When fat is removed from a product, sugar (or artificial sweeteners, which are no better) is added to replace it. ‘Low fat’/’zero % fat’/’fat free’ such as milk and yoghurt, has had its nutrients stripped out along with it’s fat, the absence of the fat has now made the (naturally occurring) sugars more readily available to the blood stream, causing a higher spike of sugar in the blood stream, go for the full fat option, plus it tastes so much better. So all this restricting of fat in favour of low-fat products has just increased your intake of sugar massively, unknowingly for most people. In turn this has added to our cravings for more sugar as once the sugar has been moved from the blood stream we just want more to pick us up again. Little did a lot of people know that low fat and zero % fat products have just put us on a blood sugar, fat-storing, sugar-craving, low energy roller coaster for years!
In our calorie-counting culture fat is the first thing to be removed from the diet in a quest to lose weight because it’s higher in calories than carbohydrates or proteins. But, the whole ‘calories in, calories out’ theory is a myth because if it were true why on earth would so many people be struggling to lose weight or get the body they want? We’d all be slim, toned and healthy if it was as simple as that. When we eat fat, we send a signal to our brain that we’re full and can stop eating. Low-fat diets leave us feeling deprived, hungry and often times with intense food cravings.
Adding fat back into your diet can cause your sugar cravings to disappear. It really is that powerful! Always go for the full fat instead of the low-fat or fat-free version, please trust me!
Fat supports our brain. Our brains are made up of 60% fat, so it needs fat for fuel! When we eat a low-fat diet we are not giving our brain the raw materials it needs to function at its best. You may have noticed that when you cut out fat you’re not able to think as clearly, feed your brain the fuel it needs.
Fat reduces inflammation. Inflammation is at the root cause of all chronic diseases. We’ve been told for years that saturated fat causes heart disease, but new research shows that saturated fat is not the problem and actually never was. Its things like refined carbohydrates, sugar, trans-fats, processed oils, constant stress, lack of sleep and over-exercising that can have the biggest impact on our overall health. When we have inflammation, our body focuses on healing that inflammation instead of doing what we want it to do — like rid the excess weight. Fat helps the body heal the existing inflammation and helps to get the body onto a good metabolic path.
Sources of good fats, to include a source with every meal and snack, these types of fat help heal your body and support your metabolism the most:
- Real butter
- Coconut oil and butter
- Oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel
- Hemp seed and hemp oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butters
- Olive oil
Sources of bad fats, these are the ones that cause damage and inflammation in our body:
- All trans fats (referred to as ‘partially hydrogenated’ or ‘hydrogenated oil’ on the product info label)
- Refined/processed oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, sunflower, or vegetable oil
- All margarine, yes even the ones that say they reduce cholesterol and have a lovely picture of a heart on the label.
- Shop bought baked goods such as biscuits, cakes, buns, donuts, some types of crackers etc
- Deep fried foods
- Crisps and chips
The Scoop on Omega 3 and Omega 6 Fats
These fats are ‘essential’ because the body cant make them itself, so we need to provide them in our diet. Both 3 and 6 should be in balance but the trouble is its much easier for us to obtain omega 6 fats (mainly from vegetable oils, margarine, and animal products) from the diet than it is omega 3 fats (mainly from oily fish, and some nuts and seeds). This has resulted in an increase in the ratio of omega 6:3 fats so they’re not in balance in our bodies. If this ratio gets too high it can result in inflammation in the body, which is a pre-cursor for most disease and obesity, and not to mention the havoc it plays on our hormones!
So what should you do?
Make sure you’re getting enough omega 3 fats in your diet. The plant sources like flaxseeds, chia and walnuts for example, have to go through a rather complex conversion process in order to become EPA & DHA omega 3 fats, the form of omega 3 that the body can actually use. So look more to oily fish like sardines, mackerel, salmon, trout and if you aren’t eating enough of these or you’re vegan or vegetarian then consider taking a good quality EPA and DHA supplement.
Here are some tips on how to incorporate good fats into your day:
- Add butter to your vegetables or melt a good tbsp of coconut oil over them and your choice of seasoning
- Use half an avocado in a smoothie, with your scrambled eggs, in salads, or make guacamole yourself to have with oatcakes or as a side
- Cook with unrefined virgin coconut oil, light olive oil (NOT extra virgin), lard, butter, goose/duck fat (imagine roast potatoes in goose fat, yum!)
- Add coconut cream, tbsp of nut butter or coconut oil and coconut butter to smoothies
- Use nut butters like cashew, almond, hazelnut, mixed nut etc, have on oat cakes, rye bread, in smoothies, mixed with coconut yoghurt eg COYO or just eat off the spoon for a quick pick me up.
- Use cream in your morning coffee instead of sugar-loaded and processed coffee creamers.
- Use coconut milk for your smoothies. I like to add 2-3 parts water to one can of full fat coconut milk and store in the fridge for my smoothies.
- Cook your eggs in butter, use about a tbsp. (the real stuff). The processed stuff is detrimental to health, and does not favour weight management.
- Treat alert! Add half a banana, some coconut cream, and 1 tbsp of raw cocao powder as an anytime snack. Also try half a frozen banana with ½ an avocado and 1 tbsp of raw cacao powder for some super healthy chocolate ice cream
- Drizzle olive oil and or hemp oil over salads, greens, or any other dish you want to add oil to! Keep it cold though never heated, or you damage the delicate bonds the oil is made up of and turn them unhealthy.
- For a healthy tuna mayonnaise mix eggs with olive or hemp oil then add to tinned tuna or salmon and serve with mixed green leaves.
- Enjoy cashews, pistachios, brazils, almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts etc, great with sliced apple or pear
We have to overcome our fear of fat make friends with it, everyday—you will be surprised how much better you feel as well as the positive effects it can have on your weight!
My favourite tip is to add a tablespoon of coconut oil to your morning coffee or cup of green tea to kick start fat burning for the day.
One last thing…..coconut helps our body to burn fat!
Coconut oil is made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which is a type of fat that is digested quickly and known for it’s great energy and metabolism-boosting effects. Lauric acid is the main form of MCT in coconut oil. It has been shown to be antimicrobial, antibacterial, antiviral and increases HDL cholesterol (the good kind). It can promote healthy thyroid function, blood sugar regulation, and help fight off yeast, candida, and fungus.
Basically coconut oil can boost your metabolism and give you more energy. It can reduce inflammation, which as mentioned above is the route to all evil including weight gain.
I hope this has been helpful and you take some of the points on board and start to feel great