Fats have received a bad rap over the past decade. For a while “low fat” diets were all the craze. Doctors and even nutritionists were recommending that everyone should follow a low-fat diet as a way to promote heart health and lose weight.
Now and days, things have changed, and many diets such as the Paleo diet emphasize the use of healthy fats such as avocados and coconut oil.
Over the past couple of years, we have found that fat is not something we should run from, our bodies actually rely on a certain amount of fat to work at their best. We have also learned that most of those low-fat options are packed full of sugar, and sugar is doing much more harm to our body than fat would.
Why We Need Fat
Did you know that the human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat? This is just one good reason to consume healthy fat. It’s important to feed our brain, and many brain-supporting foods are rich in healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids. By removing fat from your diet, you starve your brain of the nutrients it needs to function at its best.
Here are just a handful of other reasons we need fat in our diet to maintain optimal health:
- Saturated fats found in things like coconut oil and butter help support proper nerve signaling by acting on signaling messengers. These messengers directly affect metabolism, as well as control the proper release of insulin. (1)
- We need fats for a healthy immune system. Saturated fats play an especially important role here as adequate amounts will help the immune system recognize and then destroy foreign invaders.
- Did you know that a thin layer that coats the lungs is 100% saturated fatty acids? We need fats in our diet to protect this protective layer, or we could suffer from breathing difficulties.
The Number One Fat Myth
One of the most common concerns when it comes to fat consumption is that saturated fat raises cholesterol and causes heart disease.
While it’s important to talk about the rise in heart disease in the United States, it’s also important to understand that fat may not be the biggest problem here.
When it comes to saturated fat, numerous studies have been done, and no long-term study has found the connection between saturated fat intake and an increase in blood cholesterol levels. (2) There have been countless studies conducted on this association, and only one study found a weak correlation between saturated fat intake and cholesterol.
On the other hand, other studies have found that those on low-carbohydrate diets which are often very high in saturated fat don’t raise cholesterol but actually have benefits on cardiovascular disease risks.
As one last example, a very large study looking at 350,000 participants did not find any link between saturated fat intake and heart disease!
Fat Doesn’t Always Make Us Fat
Another common myth surrounding fat intake is that consuming fat will make us fat when in fact eating the right fats can actually help aid weight loss efforts.
Fat is a wonderful energy source which means that when we eat foods rich in healthy fats, we are more likely to become full more quickly and have sustained energy as opposed to snacking on refined carbohydrates and sugar. Fats can help fuel the body, provide us with energy, and help prevent overeating.
Many people starting a Paleo style diet or one that focuses on lots of nuts, seeds, coconut, and avocados don’t believe it’s possible to consume all that fat and maintain a healthy weight. However, fat can help you achieve a healthy weight for quite a few reasons including:
- Human studies found that those who consumed a high-fat diet had a faster metabolism. Low-fat and high carbohydrate diets on the other hand spiked insulin and slowed the metabolism. (2)
- Hungry cells cause weight gain. When we restrict our calories, our bodies go into a starvation mode holding onto calories and storing fat. When we fuel our bodies with the right foods, and enough healthy fats your metabolism keeps running and you are better able to lose weight.
- Our hormones need fat. With hormone imbalances comes the potential for weight gain.
- Some of the most nutrient dense foods are rich in fat. When you focus on whole and natural food options and eliminate packaged foods, you are better able to maintain a healthy weight.
With all of this being said we need to talk about the good and the bad when it comes to fat because while some fats will help promote weight loss, others will do the exact opposite.
The Good & The Bad
While many fats are healthy, not all fats are created equal. Trans-fats and hydrogenated fats should be completely avoided as they can increase the risk of heart disease, can cause inflammation, and are detrimental to health. Here are some common places these damaged fats are found.
- Baked goods/pastries
- Certain crackers
- Vegetable shortening
- Packaged snacks
- Fried foods
- Coffee creamers
With that being said there are plenty of healthy fat options you should include in your diet! Here is a list of some fats that can help support health:
- Coconut oil
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grass-fed butter
- Wild caught salmon
Many of these fats are rich in vitamins, minerals, and anti-inflammatory properties. You may be surprised to see butter on this list. However, real butter is rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids which can help boost brain health as well as improve the health of your skin. (3) Ghee which is clarified butter is also another great option and has a high smoke point which makes it a great option for cooking. The thing to remember is to go with the whole and natural option. Grass-fed butter is what you want, not processed butter or margarine which is likely packed full of damaged fats and stripped of any health benefits.
With a Paleo style diet, you are likely to enjoy every item on this list while avoiding the toxic options. High carbohydrate diets and diets high in sugar are detrimental to health. We need to fear sugar and artificial ingredients much more than we need to fear healthy fat sources. Fuel your body with the nutrients it needs to thrive, and your health will thank you for it.
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Finally, I learned about functional medicine and found a practitioner that I hoped could help me. They ran specialized tests that were far different than I had ever had before. When I got the results back, it turned out I had candida, parasites, high cortisol, the Epstein Bar Virus and many food intolerances. I also had an issue with my thyroid that no one found before because they were using the conventional medicine lab ranges which are way too broad….which I now know is one of the leading causes of hypothyroid misdiagnosis.
I went through treatment of all of these things and it completely changed my life. I immediately lost the 30 pounds I had gained plus more, I had a lot more energy, and my brain fog was gone. I felt amazing and knew that I wanted to help people find the underlying causes of their symptoms and disease.
Chris Kresser (2013). The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Are Not the Enemy.
Mercola (2009) 7 Reasons to Eat More Saturated Fat.
Mark Hyman M.D. Why Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat!
Dr. Axe. The 5 Best Healthy Fats for Your Body.