In the late 80s through most of the 90s, Americans found themselves in a fat-free craze. Fat-free foods stocked the shelves and commercials gloated about their foods being fat-free (other health concerns be dammed!) If you’re older than 30 you most likely remember SnackWells being a staple in the pantry.
Here’s the thing: we didn’t lose weight. In fact, we got fatter and experienced a rise in diabetes.Why? Because these fat-free (!!!) foods were laden with added sugars and processed carbs. Plus, how many of those spongy chocolate cookies did you eat since they were fat-free?
There have been a number of studies done, and there’s been no benefit for low-fat diets to lead to better weight loss, and there’s no benefit for low-fat diets to lead to less disease. –Mary Flynn, Professor of Medicine at Brown University.
Finally, we’re understanding that eating fat doesn’t make you fat. And, more importantly, eating healthy fats can help you manage your weight. However, we’re still in somewhat of a fat-free coma, hesitant and confused on how to make fats a healthy part of our diet. I hope this post will clear up the confusion so you can develop a healthy relationship with healthy fats!
Types of Fat
Unhealthy fats should still be avoided or at least minimized to reach a healthy weight. While healthy fats (the focus of this post) should be prioritized in your diet. Here are the types of fats to chose and those to avoid:
Saturated fat (unhealthy) – Saturated fat solidifies at room temperature and can raise your cholesterol. It is found in animal products (beef, chicken, pork, etc.)with leaner meats having less saturated fat, and full fat dairy products. A healthy diet should get less than 10% of its calories from saturated fat.
Trans fat (unhealthy) – Trans fats are altered through a process called hydrogenation which makes the shelf life longer and the fat harder at room temperature. Unlike saturated fat, trans fats both raise your LDL (bad) and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol and should be avoided as much as possible. Trans fats, like all fat, is listed separately on food labels and is most commonly found in highly processed foods like snacks foods, cookies, desserts, fried foods, and baked goods.
Unsaturated fat (healthy) – Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and opting for unsaturated fat over saturated fat may help improve your cholesterol. These fats are found in oils from plants, nuts, seeds, and avocados, and vegetable oils (peanut, canola, soybean, sunflower, etc.). There are 2 types of unsaturated fat; monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (which includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids).
Benefits of Healthy Fats
Improving your cholesterol is a benefit of eating healthy fats, but that’s not all. As I mentioned earlier, eating a low-fat diet did not necessarily contribute to weight loss, but enjoying some healthy fats in your diet can help curb cravings for longer helping us to eat a little less overall.
Studies show that replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats can improve insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat found in flaxseed oil and fish oil, and fish, have been shown to help fight inflammation which can improve heart health and other diseases associated with chronic inflammation.
Opting for unsaturated fats over saturated fats can slim you down as it is linked to less central fat distribution, meaning less stubborn belly fat.
Ways to Incorporate Them into Your Diet
Now that you’re on board with healthy fats (because how can you not be?), it’s time to stock up on foods packed with the right kinds of fats. The top 8 most accessible – you can find them at any grocery, they won’t break the bank, and are easy to eat – include:
Top soups, use as a spread on sandwiches, spread on toast, or add to smoothies.
Put on sandwiches or stock up on string cheese for easy eating on the go.
Use in place of sour cream on chili and tacos, blend into smoothies, or eat as a parfait with nuts and berries.
Tree nuts (and nut butters)
Eat alone or with string cheese for a quick afternoon snack, add to yogurt in a parfait, or spread nut butter on whole grain crackers or celery.
Coconut oil and olive oil
Cook with olive or coconut oil instead of butter.
Drizzle with olive oil and lemon and broil, or check the freezer section for salmon burgers for a quick meal.
Seeds (like flax, chia, and pumpkin)
Add to salads and smoothies.
Hard boil a half dozen on Sunday and enjoy throughout the week either alone or as a salad topper, make egg salad with greek yogurt instead of mayo, or try a breakfast burrito for breakfast or dinner.
It’s still crucial to keep in mind that fat – no matter what kind – has more calories per gram than it’s macronutrient counterparts, carbohydrates and protein, making it easy to overindulge and consume excess calories. Check the serving size so you’re aware of what a serving of almonds is (it fills a shot glass), before you snack on the entire bag of trial mix in one sitting.
Don’t be afraid of fat. Instead, be choosy in the type you eat and reap the health benefits!