Let me start by putting the myth to bed clearly, right up front: Eating fat doesn’t make you fat!
Want to lose weight? Eat fat. Want a healthy heart and brain? Healthy joints? Eat Fat.
Last week while in the work break room, Kelli overheard the conversation of two women discussing weight. One brought up nuts nuts and said, “They’re ok, it’s good fat.” The other woman’s response was, “Good fat, what does that even mean? There’s no such thing as a good fat. Fat isn’t good for you.” Decades of misinformation shining through.
Yes, there are good fats, and they’re critical to your health. It is important to know the good fats, like raw nuts, and include them in your diet EVERY single day.
Similar to myths like “eating cholesterol will increase your cholesterol,” or “diet sodas don’t cause weight gain,” or “dairy is the best source of calcium,” the idea that eating fat makes you fat is just one more result of bad, outdated science that continues to be propagated. Even many health experts, ones who teach correct principles of a clean diet and making vegetables your primary food source, still teach that a low-fat diet is healthy. It simply isn’t true. Yes, you need to eat fat, and yes, some of it should be saturated fat (meaning coconut oil, not lard).
The human body is between 15 and 30 percent fat. Our brains are 60 percent fat. Fat is a basic building block that’s essential to our health. Years of avoiding fat has been shown to be a contributor to neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and Lou Gehrig’s Disease. There is simply no such thing as a healthy low-fat diet.
Fat is what our body uses to build cell walls. High quality fats will produce walls that are flexible and responsive to information sent throughout the body’s nervous system. Low quality fats, or lack of fats, will produce walls that are stiff and rigid. The more rigid the wall, the the greater the potential for inflammation. Remember, inflammation is at the core of every disease and illness.1
Your body will send warning signs if you’re not getting enough fat: Achy and stiff joints; soft, brittle nails; dry, itchy, flaky skin or scalp; tiny bumps on the back of your torso or back of your arms; and hard earwax.
Avoiding fat would be like a builder constructing a house without lumber. And just as there are higher grades of lumber as well as cheap scraps, there are high quality fats and fats to avoid.
Of all the fats available, there are only two that we REALLY need, or what are called ‘essential’ – omega 3’s and omega 6’s. Omega 3’s are found in cold-water fish, walnuts, Brazils nuts, chia seeds, sea vegetables, and canola oil (be sure to choose organic canola). Healthy sources of Omega 6s include other nuts and seeds as well hemp oil.
An intake of equal amounts is usually healthy. But as food became more refined, our diets became skewed heavily in favor of low quality 6’s. The ingredient list of most processed food will show an abundance of omega 6 fats because they are very cheap and readily available. If you see corn, soy, or safflower oil in the ingredient list, you know you’re getting poor quality fats.
Because of the refining process and the heat involved, these oils are rancid and carcinogenic before they even hit the store shelves. Omega 6’s in that form, when eaten in greater amounts than 3’s, will increase the rigidity of your cell walls and limit the body’s ability to cool inflammation, actually blocking the absorption of omega 3’s. This has also lead to the increased prevalence of cancer and heart disease.
The brain is the primary beneficiary of healthy fats, particularly a type of omega 3 called DHA which is the biggest portion of the fats in the brain.2 DHA permits communication between brain cells, increasing memory, learning, cognition, and happiness. Low amounts of DHA are linked to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.3
The heart takes second place for the benefits derived from healthy fats.4 Omega 3’s reduce triglycerides and thus decrease the bad cholesterol (LDL) while increasing the good cholesterol (HDL). If you think of fat as a lubricant, you’ll understand why good fats will reduce the risk of artery disease.
And here’s the kicker for everyone concerned about their waist lines. Eating the right types of fat will help you burn body fat. Cells with healthy, flexible cell walls have more efficient metabolisms. They metabolize insulin more efficiently as well, regulating your blood sugar, which prevents the body from thinking it needs to store fat.
Additionally, omega 3’s will help your body regulate cortisol, the stress hormone. Elevate cortisol results in inflammation and weight gain, as well as a host of other health conditions. Any way you slice it, eating healthy fats will help keep you from being fat.
You could get into trouble if you over indulge in nuts (more than a couple handfuls daily) or oils (more than a few tablespoons daily), but other than that, there is no limit to the amount of good fats you can eat.
Healthy Fats to include in your diet:
Cold-water fish (low mercury types like salmon, sardines, and herring, 2 servings a week)
Nuts and beans
Unrefined coconut, avocado, olive, hemp, and macadmia oils
Unhealthy Fats to avoid:
Refined oils- soy, corn, vegetable, safflower
Hydrogenated oils (trans fats) like margarine, shortening
Just like counting calories is a futile exercise, so is counting fat grams. To quote the authors of the Skinny B*@#! books (which we hesitate to recommend because they’re so crass, but their messages certainly stick), “Whenever you see the words ‘fat free’ or ‘low fat,’ think of the words ‘chemical s- -t storm.'” The fat removed from a food has to be replaced with something to make it taste good…enter sugar, artificial flavorings and sweeteners, and other chemicals.
Focus on the ingredient list, know your good fats and bad fats, eat real food, and you can’t help but maintain a healthy weight.
1 Wolfgang, K et al. 1999 C-Reactive Protein, a Sensitive Marker of Inflammation Predicts Future Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Initially Healthy Middle-Aged med. Circulation 99 (2) 237-242
2 Bradbury J 2011. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. Nutrients 3 (5): 529-54
3 Freeman, MP, et al 2006. Omega-3 fatty acids: evidence basis for treatment and future research in psychiatry. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 67 (12): 1954-1976. Review.
4 Mozaffarian D, Wu JH, 2011 Omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: effects on risk factors, molecular pathways, and clinical events. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 58 (20): 2047-67
Do you know anything about Rice Bran Oil? And when you mention refined oil, does that include coconut oil? I can’t stand the taste of coconut in my savory foods, but still want to use coconut oil. I suppose I could use ghee instead. Thanks for the post!
Rice bran oil is certainly an option to consider. It doesn’t have the same health benefits as olive oil, but could be a good alternative for higher heats. We hear ya’ about the coconut flavor. It’s not always wanted. Ghee is definitely a great option, probably better even than rice bran oil. We also love to use macadamia and avocado oils for the higher temperature cooking. Refined is good for manners, but not for oils. 🙂 Avoid any refined oils. It means they’ve been exposed to high heat and processes that have caused the fats to oxidize…oxidize cells are damaged cells.
I read that canola is chemically manufactured and not good for you, either.
There seems to be a lot of conflicting information regarding canola oil, primarily due to its link with rapeseed, since canola oil is produced from a variation of the rapeseed plant. Typically we take “conflict” as a sign that it may be best to avoid a product since there are so many natural alternatives that are always agreed upon to be safe. In addition, most canola plants are genetically modified, so that seals the deal for us. No thanks.
I noticed that you said that we should be eating saturated oils like coconut but NOT lard. Why is that? From what I’ve read lard is monounsaturated, with oleic acid. From what I understand that’s a good fat that helps lower LDL.
Good question Jessica. We’d recommend lard from organic, naturally raised, hormone free pork before, say, a vegetable oil anytime, of course. But, it’s much easier to find quality coconut oil than quality lard. Most pigs raised in the United States are fed grains and possibly seed oils, which dramatically increase their omega-6 content, as well as the highly inflammatory byproduct of omega-6 fatty acid metabolism arachadonic acid. According to the Weston A. Price Foundation, lard from pigs fed this type of diet may be 32 percent polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), which contribute to chronic inflammation A second reason for not being enthusiastic about it is the jury is still out on whether the same concerns that exist around pork (which are many) exist in pig fat a well. In our view there are cleaner sources of those nutrients that don’t carry the same concerns.