Back in the ’80s fats were thought to be the cause of heart problems, clogged arteries and obesity. Low-fat foods were recommended by medical ‘experts’ as the most important aspect of a healthy diet. Munching on raw vegis minus the dressing, avoiding beef, substituting corn-based products for butter, opting for low-fat cheese, milk and ice cream, resulted in an whole new industry that, thanks to chemistry, created fat-free everything that was supposed to help you lose weight and build a healthier body.
Fast forward to today; with a vastly improved understanding of nutrition and the human body, healthy fats are now being recognized for the positive effects they have on your heart, metabolism and weight loss.
Unhealthy vs. Healthy Fats
Unsaturated fats were demonized during the low-fat era, but they’re the fats that are the most beneficial to the body. Healthy, unsaturated fats are found in salmon, whole milk, avocados, olives, nuts, cheeses and fatty meats. And unlike carbohydrates, healthy fats do not raise insulin levels or produce free radicals that harm the body, and they can help to lower cholesterol and shed excess body weight.
Saturated fats, on the other hand, are the fats to avoid. Trans fats are the worst offenders, found in margarine, vegetable shortening and partially hydrogenated oils. These unsaturated, hydrogenated vegetable and seed oils are artificially manipulated into saturated fats. Pre-packaged and convenience foods often contain these low-quality fats that interfere with insulin receptors and cause food cravings that lead to weight gain.
How Fats Assist With Weight Loss
A high-fat (ketogenetic) diet provides a different type of fuel than most of us are used to running on, which is primarily glucose. Glucose, a simple sugar provided by carbohydrates, is sometimes called the ‘dirty fuel’ because it increases insulin, contributes to the production of secondary free radicals and is a factor in chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
Weight loss will become much easier once you abandon the misconception that fat causes weight gain. Eating a diet rich in healthy fats will help to alleviate brain fog and reduce your food cravings by providing fuel for longer periods of time. Research on the ketogenic diet suggests it lowers your levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you hungry.
Essentially, with more healthy fats in your diet you’ll stay satisfied for longer after meals and it will stimulate your body to burn stored fat. Cravings for carbs and sweets will diminish once the body has the fuel that it really needs, which will further assist with weight loss.
Switching to a Healthy Fat Diet
Switching over to a low-carb, high-fat diet often requires a complete lifestyle change. For many of us, that means small steps forward until we no longer consume processed foods. Pre-packaged, fast and convenience foods will need to be eliminated from your diet and healthy fats will need to be incorporated into the way you prepare (or purchase) your meals.
The concept of healthy food will change so that even many of the so called ‘healthier’ versions of packaged foods will be seen for what they are – chemically produced products made with unhealthy vegetable oils and processed fats, which contribute to obesity and many other health problems. The end result will be a diet high in healthy fats, moderate amounts of protein and starchy carbs, and small amounts of grain. (a ratio of 1:1 fats to non-fiber carbohydrates and protein).
Here are some of the best sources for healthy fats:
- Avocados – Super food packed with monounsaturated fats to help lower bad cholesterol. Good source of vitamin E, protein and folate.
- Coconut Oil – Rich in medium-chain fatty acids which offer a variety of health benefits, including lowering bad cholesterol, improving heart and brain function… and more.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil – High in monounsaturated fats and antioxidants to improve heart health, brain function and even your skin.
- Real Butter – Despite what you’ve heard, butter is surprisingly healthy – in moderation. High in omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (as well as vitamins and minerals) it’s also good for your heart, brain and skin.
- Nuts & Seeds – Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, best sources include almonds, walnuts, flax and chia seeds.
- Fish / Seafood (especially salmon!) – Another excellent source of omega-3’s, salmon is probably your best seafood option.
- Eggs – Packed with protein and amino acids, contains healthy fats that can lower cholesterol and improve heart health.
- Grass Fed Beef – High in protein and Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA) to prevent cancer and other diseases.
- Full Fat Dairy – Yogurt is a great source of omega-3’s, and dairy products are loaded with vitamins, minerals and healthy enzymes.
The benefits of healthy fats can easily be obtained by altering your diet, but even more progress can be made by adding a few key supplements:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Not only do omega-3 fatty acids help ward off diseases, but they trigger our bodies to produce leptin, a natural appetite suppressant and nutrient vital for thyroid function which regulates our metabolism. Most of us don’t consume enough of these naturally, so adding it in a supplement form is one of the easiest ways to get a sufficient amount.
While flaxseed and walnut oils provide a fair amount of omega-3’s, studies have shown that in many cases coldwater fish oil is superior to plant based oils. Safe and easy to swallow, fish oil supplements come in a variety of forms, including burp-less soft gels that prevent a fishy aftertaste. While there is no standard for daily dosage, health organizations suggest a daily dose of 250-500 milligrams for healthy adults.
Conjugated Linoleic Acids (CLA)
A powerhouse for lowering cholesterol and triglycerides, strengthening the immune system, as well as a proven aide in losing weight, CLA is a form of linoleic acid that has been shown to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass when combined with regular exercise.
Just one of the research papers that reported positive results on weight loss was a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found that people who took 3.2 grams of CLA a day experienced a drop in fat of approximately 0.2 pounds per week compared to those given a placebo. Other studies have shown that CLA reduces body fat while preserving muscle tissue and may also increase your metabolic rate.
CLA is found in grass fed beef, eggs, turkey and mushrooms and cannot be manufactured in the human body. Therefore, it must come from food sources or supplements. To be beneficial in weight loss, a dose of between 1.8 to 7 grams per day has been shown to be successful.
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
An excellent addition to any diet – especially for women – is MCTs. Not only do they help to suppress the appetite, they have the added benefit of anti-aging properties. With fewer calories than other fats and the ability to decrease cravings, MCT is a win-win for weight loss. They are absorbed by the body quickly and provide a much needed burst of energy.
Approximately 63% of the fatty acids in coconut oil are MCTs. Fast becoming a favorite healthy fat for people working on improving their health… losing weight is an added bonus. Cook with it or add it to a cup of hot coffee for a energy packed pick-me-up. MCTs are also found in smaller amounts in palm kernel oil, full-fat yogurt, grass fed butter and cheeses.
Supplementing with a concentrated MCT oil has also been growing in popularity. Extracted from coconut and palm oil, the concentrated form provides faster energy. Just start slow, as the digestive tract may need time to adjust to the influx of excessive amounts of MCT oil.
In a Nutshell
To lose weight by eating more healthy fats, you will also need to eat fewer carbohydrates than you may be used to. This doesn’t mean zero carbs, but work toward 50 grams or less per day. Be selective and choose whole foods or cook from scratch whenever possible. Focus on the quality rather than the quantity, and you will begin to see overall improvements in your skin and mood, experience fewer cravings and watch the pounds melt away.