It is almost ingrained in us to stay as far away as possible from fatty foods when trying to maintain a healthy diet. When all we hear over and over in magazines and the media is “Fat is bad! Fat makes you fat!” it’s hard not to assume all fats are bad. However, much like a lot of nutrition advice perpetuated by the media, there are some very important key details missing. Like what is the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats? Is it possible that foods high in fat could still be good for you? But what are good fats? And most importantly, can we still eat cheese?!?! We have so many questions! Wellness coach extraordinaire, Natasha AKA Fit Mama SB, answers all of our questions and helps us get to the bottom of the long standing misconception about everybody’s favorite “F” word, F-A-T.
Natasha, creator of Fit Mama Santa Barbara, is a licensed Occupational Therapist and certified Wellness and Health Coach helping people of all ages and fitness levels for the past ten years. Her training and wellness services emphasize nutritional education and various therapeutic exercises to achieve the highest quality of a healthy lifestyle.
Food Myth: Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat
As you walk through the grocery store, you may see all the nutrition buzz words jump out at you. FAT FREE! LOW FAT! NO FAT! Sure this sounds alluring, everyone wants to be fat-free right? This common myth about food has recently been proven less than true — eating fat doesn’t always make you fat after all.
The Difference between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats
It’s important to differentiate between different kinds of fats as not all fats are created equal!
The true definition of saturated fats are fats that are often solid at room temperature. They are usually found in animal meat (beef, chicken, pork), certain plant oils (such as coconut oil), dairy, processed foods and pre-packaged snacks. These fats are thought to cause high cholesterol and heart disease contributing to heart disease symptoms such as plaque build up and clogged arteries.
Unsaturated fats can be defined as fats that are liquid at room temperature and can be found in nuts, vegetable oils (olive oil, canola oil), fish and avocados. These ‘healthy’ fats help lower cholesterol naturally and aid in heart disease prevention. The American Heart Association recommends that most of your daily fat intake come from unsaturated fats to optimize heart health. For those looking for a low cholesterol diet plan, they recommend a daily intake of 11-13 grams of saturated fat per day.
Saturated fat is no longer as bad as everyone once thought. New research has found that saturated fats don’t necessarily increase the incidence of heart disease, and may be okay to eat in moderation. This doesn’t mean that you can binge on bacon and cheeseburgers and not get fat, but rather the causes of heart disease are far more complicated than diet alone.
Processed foods are worse than we thought. All the food items that claim to be ‘fat-free’ are often modified to be that way. Fat is extracted from the food item, and the food is processed until they can warrant putting a ‘fat-free’ label on it. Surprisingly, these lower calorie and fat free foods are often full of additives and other ingredients that may wreak havoc on your body and hormones causing adverse effects and contribute to weight gain and other problems.
The Benefits of Fat
Fat is essential to how our bodies work. According to Dr. Sears, fat helps us build healthy cells, promote healthy brain function, and helps the body use and transport vitamins. Fat is also an important component of hormones and helps with hormone regulation in the body. Fat can improve skin quality as well as provide a cushion for the organs and bodily tissues.
By eating a healthy balanced diet that contains 25-35% of fat a day you can not only feel fuller longer but you may find you have more energy and finally start to lose the belly pudge.
The key is to find good sources of fat and balance your consumption of fats with other macronutrients throughout the day. What are macronutrients you ask? They are simply the nutrients your body needs the most (i.e. carbs, fats, and proteins) . Less conservative diets such as ‘if it fits your macros’ (IIFYM) are becoming more popular and for good reason. By consuming more calories from fat and flexible dieting you may find you are less likely to reach for salty, carb-filled snacks because you are hungry, therefore contributing to fat loss and muscle growth.
Processed food, regardless of their fat content, contribute to weight gain more than other natural sources of calories. What exactly is processed food? It is defined as any deliberate change to to a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. To avoid these foods, eat real, unprocessed food, straight from the source. Avoid anything that comes in a box and aim to shop for organic produce and meats, or even better… grow your own! Packing a lunch and snacks every day is an excellent way to avoid eating processed food.
Good Fat Sources
Here’s a list of some healthy fats to add to your daily meal plan:
Avocado – The health facts about avocados can be conflicting, but don’t be deterred by the calorie count. These amazing fruits are high in unsaturated fat, great for your hair, nails and complexion. They are also a great source of protein for the non-meat eaters out there!
Olive Oil – Also high in unsaturated fat, olive oil can help decrease cholesterol and add flavor to your food. An excellent choice for cooking! Calories in olive oil are about 40 a teaspoon, but don’t let that stop you from incorporating this great source of good fat into your diet. A little goes a long way!
Coconuts and Coconut Oil – This saturated fat hosts a ton of health benefits. Try cooking with coconut oil instead of olive oil — it tastes delicious. Or even use it as skin care. Don’t be afraid to use coconut oil on your face; it’s extremely moisturizing and nourishing. For a healthy pick-me-up, throw some coconut oil in coffee for a non-dairy twist on Bulletproof Coffee.
Meat – High quality, grass fed, organic beef, chicken and pork can make a difference in your overall health and energy levels. Look for organic, hormone- and antibiotic-free meat.
Dairy – Full-fat milk, butter, and yogurt are great ways to get a boost of fat and calcium in the morning. Unsalted grass fed butter makes a great addition to your coffee (blended) and can keep you full and satisfied throughout the morning (many prefer this over coconut oil coffee). Cheese can also be a good source of saturated fat that is packed with calcium, protein, and vitamin A.
Unprocessed, saturated fat is good for you. Now that you are aware of the differences in types of fats and what type of foods to avoid, start finding balance in your macros and benefit from healthy fat sources to feel stronger, leaner and better than ever before!