To eat fat or to not eat fat... that is the question. But what is the answer?
For decades, you were taught that a diet rich in fats is bad for your waistline and general health. That eating fats leads to weight gain and obesity, high cholesterol and heart disease. That low fat diets are the only way to shed unwanted pounds and improve your health.
Were they right?
Are fats really that bad for you? Or is it something else that leads to obesity, heart disease, inflammation and a variety of other illnesses?
There's more. (The plot--and quite possibly your arteries--thickens.) A report recently revealed that back in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the connection between sugar and heart disease, and in its place, encourage the belief that fats were the enemy. As a result, consumers greatly reduced their intake of healthy fats and increased their intake of carbohydrates, such as pasta, grains, bread and chips. Any foods that claimed to be "low fat" suddenly became the new food fad. In short, what transpired was the "Summer of Carbohydrate Love".
And what happened?
As a result, there was a significant increase in the number of people diagnosed with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and diabesity. The latter, a word that blends "diabetes" and "obesity", is defined as a metabolic dysfunction that can range from mild blood sugar imbalance to full-blown type 2 diabetes. Research now shows that obesity is not about "calories in, calories out", but the quality of those calories. Calorie for calorie, eating refined carbohydrates is not the same as eating healthy fats, in spite of the fact that protein and carbs both provide 4 calories per gram, whereas fat provides 9 calories per gram. But, it's the excess carbs that create an overproduction of insulin, which stores fat in your bodies. By contrast, healthy fats can help promote weight loss.
What does all of this mean? It means it's time to re-think the fat vs. sugar thing. The truth, however, can be somewhat eye-opening, if not downright disturbing. Read on and try not to reach for that cookie.
Know your fats
There are three types of dietary fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated. Monounsaturated fats (olive oil, avocado oil) are liquid at room temperature and partly solidify when chilled. Polyunsaturated fats (fish oil, flaxseed oil) are always liquid. Saturated fats (animal fats, coconut oil) are always solid at room temperature.
Monounsaturated fats are good for you. They are anti-inflammatory and help protect against heart disease, support weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity and decrease your risk for diabetes, elevate your mood and strengthen your bones. Good sources include extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, eggs and almonds.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are types of omega-3s, and are also among the healthiest fats you can eat. They are essential fatty acids, which means you need to include them in your diet, as your body doesn't manufacture them. These healthy fats are vital to supporting heart, blood vessel, brain and eye health.
There is a tremendous amount of research indicating that omega-3s can reduce inflammation, strengthen your immune system, decrease your risk of stroke and heart problems, reduce triglyceride levels, improve your cholesterol profile, improve cognitive function, support brain and ocular health and maintain joint mobility. Sounds pretty great, eh? EPA and DHA are found mostly in cold water fish, such as wild salmon, black cod, herring, anchovies and sardines. (Avoid larger fish like tuna, as they have dangerously high mercury levels.)
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is another essential omega-3 fat known to have anti-inflammatory properties that benefit the heart and blood vessels. The vegetarian sources of ALA include algae, walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, hemp seed and pumpkin seed. A small amount of this gets converted to EPA and DHA.
Saturated fats have been the most controversial. The main sources are meat and dairy products--beef, lamb, chicken with skin, pork, whole milk, cream, butter and cheese. If you eat animal products, opt for organic as much as possible. Vegetarian sources of saturated fats include coconut and coconut oil, palm oil, chocolate and various nuts.
The fat on skinny
There's good news and better news. The good news is that healthy fats are a very important part of your diet, so don't be afraid of them. Even better, as you incorporate them into your diet, you'll feel more satisfied, Unlike carbohydrates, healthy fats help eliminate hunger and food cravings. So you eat less.. and can naturally lose weight! Here is a small change you can make right now: limit your refined carbs to reduce your production of insulin and, ultimately, belly fat. You'll feel more satiated when you eat and know that you are adding more life to your health and health to your life.
In Part Two of "The Skinny on Fats," we will continue to explore the different types of fat and how they affect your health. Meanwhile, ditch the refined carbs and start eating the healthy fats recommended above. Chances are you'll be feeling and looking better by the time you read Part Two!