…into your diet.
In my PFFCW formula, the second F is for fat. And I resisted it for years. Now that the stigma has been shattered, I realize that fat is essential to feeling good on the inside and out. Let’s find out why.
Fat is either queen bee or no one’s friend. In the 90s and even early 00’s, it was the social pariah. Everyone was eating fat free chips, cookies, and crackers. I was the queen of nonfat lattes and cappuccinos. Then, in the 2010’s, keto exploded and people were downing heavy cream. The right answer for me -as it usually is – is somewhere in the middle.
Even as an adult, I still had a stigma about fat, especially after hearing misinformation from some of my trainers, for example, that post-workout I should eat protein and carbs but not fat. I would eat almost a carton of eggwhites and a ton of nonfat greek yogurt. But I was always still hungry, and worse, craved sugar and sweets. Then, I saw a dietician, which was long overdue. And after I learned from her how important fat was in my diet, I changed my stinking thinking. I am so much healthier, and happier. And I want to share my experience so that we can smash the stigma that is still over fat and learn all of the great ways it can help us meet both our fitness and career goals.
WHAT Fat do we mean?
First, let’s clarify what fats we are talking about. We are not talking the kind of saturated fat cheeseburgers and fries. But, there is no reason to eschew ALL saturated fats – some, like the kind found in eggs and coconut oils, are good for you in small quantities (we will get into this in the minute.) . For example,a recent study found that women who consumed 2 tbsp of coconut oil per day for 12 weeks had less body fat than those who did not. .
In terms of the short list of fats, here are the main types of “healthy fats”:
- Coconut oil
- Eggs (with the yolk)
- Grass-fed beef
- Grass-fed butter
- Fish, particularly fatty fish
- Fish oil
- Seeds – Flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and chia seeds
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Olive oil
- Nuts (including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, cashews and brazil nuts)
The right kind as well as the right amount of fats matter. The Keto and Paleo diets tend to go on the opposite end of the extreme by having too much fat and eliminating other macronutrients.The general recommendation is to limit the calories from saturated fats to 10 percent of your diet. So for me, this is what I usually have with my eggs at breakfast and my greek yogurt snack. I usually mix an egg yolk with egg whites to get more protein and dilute the saturated fat – however, I do not ban egg yolk altogether, because they are great for your brain.
Why the right fats in the right amounts can be life-altering
Fat is very important for the diet, in several ways:
Fat makes you smarter
I remember every time I would study for a test in high school my dad would come to my room with a bowlful of pistachios and walnuts, and say, “You need this for your brain if you want to get an A”. Of course, being a teenager and a typical asshole, I rolled my eyes as I snapped my gum and replied, “Whatever, dad..” In my 16 year old brain, I thought he was being a weird Persian dad, but now my older wiser brain knows that he was spot on.
Fat, and particularly cholesterol, is responsible for rapid-firing connections between neurons. A brief brain lesson – your brain is made of 70 percent fat. Neurons are responsible for the functioning in the brain and central nervous system. The rapid firing that takes place between the neurons enables them to “talk” to each other. The better this rapid firing is, the stronger your brain will be, and able to protect you from disease and other trauma. And it is well documented that fat enable the rapid firing of neurons in your brain.
So the next time someone calls you a fathead, say why thank you!
Fat is your fountain of youth
Hey, we are all getting older. Whether you are reading this blog at 25, 55, or 75, we should all be celebrating where we are at every stage of life. Living longer and looking and feeling better than our chronological age is one of the gifts of fitness. And fat is a critical piece of that puzzle.
Fat will make you live longer. Finally, getting enough fat is essential to proving life only just begins at 70. And fat will make you feel younger – especially with powerful combinations like coconut and MCT oil, you can even get a bit of a high.
It’s great for your hair
One of the first things I noticed after I upped my fat ante was what happened when I brushed my hair or combed it in the shower. Before, there were at least a handful or more of clumps. Even though it is normal and even healthy to shed some hair, fat is important to prevent hair loss .Now, I only get a few stray hairs when I brush, and my hair is noticeably thicker, shinier and, as my hair dresser would attest, grows faster.
It will give you glowy skin
Now let’s look at skin. This is the biggest organ in the body! The glow and fatty cheeks we used to have in our 20’s is slowly replaced by a more ashen shade and loss of elasticity. Fat helps restore that glow and that natural bounciness that you lose over the years. Fat, especially combined with Vitamin C, is especially great for anti-aging treatment for the skin.
Fat is the key to a healthy cycle and fertility
Getting enough fat is essential for the reproductive system, especially the female system. Without enough fat, menstruation could become irregular or even cease. And, if getting pregnant or freezing your eggs is on your list of goals now or 5 years from now, weight management and enough fat in the diet is key. Even if it’s not, healthy fats will help you be less irritable and less likely to binge on sugar during PMS. And, fat is important for male fertility too – a UCLA study in Iran showed that men who consumed more walnuts had better fertility. (Iranians and their walnuts – who knew).
If you start exploring feritility with doctors, you will definitely hear and read advice recommending to eschew low-fat and fat-free products because of the negative effect they have on egg health. And, full fat dairy has similar effects on weight loss and cardiovascular health – in that, people who consumed these types of dairy were less likely to be overweigh or have heart disease.
Fat makes all the money you spend on expensive supplements and healthy food worth it.
I pick on my dad a lot, but my Persian mother is just as big of a helicopter. Every time I go home to visit, she puts a big bowl of fresh tomatoes dressed in olive oil and says, “It’s good for your skin.” In fact, there is something to that – fats help the absorption of the vitamins and antioxidants from fruit and vegetables. Particularly, the lycopene and vitamin C in tomatoes is better absorbed with a healthy fat like olive oil. Also, eating a little bit of fat with fruit will help stabilize blood sugar by releasing it more slowly into the bloodstream.
One of the worst things you can do is eat a salad with fat-free salad dressing -and that’s not just because of the sugar in the dressing. Without enough fat, all of the vitamins in the vegetables do not get absorbed and get excreted through your system. Same with all those supplements you are taking – many of which I recommend. Those that are fat soluble require fat to absorb, or again, they will just pass through the system. This is called, “expensive pee” (no for real, I didn’t make this up- this is also terminology used when one consumes too much protein – another nutrition pitfall.). So the next time you are having steamed or raw veggies, before you congratulate yourself make a nice yogurt dip, grab a container of hummus, or drizzle with some olive oil to get the real benefit of all those nutrients.
Fat makes you fitter
Fat is your best friend if you want to lose or manage weight.
Fat makes you fuller for longer – Finishing a tough workout and guzzling a protein shake or eating some cereal or oatmeal is part of the perception the fitness industry has created on what is “right,” But without enough fat, the body won’t feel satiated for long because the food will pass quickly through the system – and, as discussed above, take all of the nutrients with it.
Fat stops sugar cravings before they start -If I have had a meal with healthy fats for breakfast, I am going to be less likely to want to grab a pastry at the coffee ship or a bag of gummies off from the “impulse” aisle at the checkout line. That’s because healthy fats stop cravings for white sugary and flour foods.
Fat is essential for muscle building and fat loss. You think you are trying to get rid of fat while lifting weights and running, but fat itself is actually essential for the production of the growth hormones that make these goals achievable. Plus, the right fats are anti-inflammatory, which help healthy aging, cardiovascular function, brain health, immunity, and weight management.
Fat makes you happier
Being fitter makes your happier, but on a standalone basis, fat will improve your mood. And not enough of it may be responsible for the wonky way you have been feeling.
The pandemic has brought almost an unprecedented examination of our mental health. Depression rates rose by almost 20 percent compared to 2019. Diets high in Omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids help prevent and treat existing symptoms of anxiety and depression, especially in women. This is true of a good diet, overall. Whereas, low-fat diets are associated with more depression.
I can tell you I don’t need a study to tell me this. There have been so many times when working at home during this pandemic when I have been wound up and anxious during the day over something relatively inconsequential. Once I have a good meal, especially one with healthy fats like avocado and nuts, I feel like a different person.
So my dad has been right all this time…hmm.
So how much fat?
There is no prescriptive amount that is right for everyone, says my dietitican. It’s about how much you eat, overall. The FDA generally recommends no more than 20g of saturated fat a day. I personaly aim for about 45-55% of my calories from fat, which comes out to about 80g a day. It’s a personal decision, to be made after consulting with a professional, based on individual health needs.
Consistently, a mediterranean diet has been shown to be the best for weight management and overall physical and metal health. Healthy fats, in moderation and from the right sources, are part of that landscape.
10 “rules” for eating fat (Mindbodygreen)