I recently worked with Los Amigos CrossFit on their 30-day Summer Body Challenge, where I was able to meet with each member for a 30-minute wellness consultation. Once the challenge was over, I realized that there were a couple recurring themes. The biggest being that no one seemed to be incorporating fats into their diet. From what I gathered, it seems as though there’s still some confusion surrounding whether or not fats are healthy. Do fats make us fat? Are saturated fats bad for you? Do fats contribute to heart disease? (Just in case you didn’t already know, the answers to those questions are ‘NO’)
Let’s break it down.
First of all, there are 4 types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fats.
- Where you can find them: Beef, poultry, pork, cow’s milk, coconut, palm oil, full-fat dairy
- Physiologic effects: Potentially increases risk of heart disease
- What to eat/what to avoid: While opinions are mixed, it’s generally recommended to limit consumption of red meats and butter
- Where you can find them: Avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, sunflower oil, seeds, halibut, sablefish, mackerel, and vegetables high in oleic-acid
- Physiologic effects: May raise good HDL and lower LDL
- What to eat/what to avoid: Generally considered heart-healthy, these foods should be eaten daily
- Where you can find them: Salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, fresh tuna, flax seed, walnuts, flax seed oil, soybean oil
- Physiologic effects: May raise good HDL and lower LDL. Omega fatty acids are considered anti-inflammatory and are associated with lower risk of death
- What to eat/what to avoid: Generally considered heart-healthy, strive to eat cold water fish three times per week and plant-based polys often
4. Trans Fats
- May be found in: Margarine, processed foods, candy, chips, soda, flaky pastries, and some peanut butters
- Physiologic effects: May raise LDL and lower HDL, which leads to plaque buildup in arteries and increased risk of heart disease
- What to eat/what to avoid: Entirely avoid products with partially-hydrogenated oils listed on the ingredients
The real waistline killer is sugar—not fat. There are many people who believe that fats will make them fat, so they ultimately go on low-fat diets. The problem with a low-fat diet is that the heart healthy fats are typically replaced with sugar or highly-refined carbs that may contribute to insulin resistance, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, as well as many other issues. To put it simply, sugar is what’s going to make you fat.
The average American now eats so much sugar that our bodies can’t possibly burn it all off. Inevitably, our bodies will then store the excess sugar as fat, wreaking metabolic havoc on the body.
I could go on and on about sugar, but I'll save it for another day!
Just like anything, there are unhealthy fats. Trans fats are those that you typically find in processed foods such as donuts, cakes, breakfast sandwiches, microwavable popcorn, crackers, and cream-filled candies. Unfortunately, these are the fats that the majority of the population are eating. Trans fats play a big role in nearly every chronic disease, by causing underlying inflammation. These are the fats that you want to stay away from!
What about saturated fats? There have been a few debates in the health world this past year regarding saturated fats—mainly, coconut oil. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, no correlation has been found between saturated fat and heart disease. Just like everything, quality is key.
*If you'd like to do a little more reading about coconut oil, give this article by the Food Babe a read.
How do I know if I’m eating enough fats? Your body and brain NEED quality fats. The higher-quality the fat, the better your body will function. So how will know if you’re not getting enough? You may notice:
- Dry, itchy, scaling or flaky skin
- Soft, brittle nails
- Hard earwax
- Tiny bumps on the backs of your arms (for me, this is a telltale sign that I’m not getting enough)
- Achy, stiff joints
I notice that when I eat fats with every meal, I feel and function so much better. The right fats will also make your skin glow, your hair shine, and your nails strong.
My favorite fats include:
- Avocados! Ok, I know this will sound super basic of me, but I LOVE mashing avocado with a little pink salt, pepper, and garlic and onion powder, and smearing it all over some warm sourdough for avocado toast. So tasty and such an easy way to get my fats in in the morning.
- Nuts and seeds. I love almonds, cashews, chia, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. One thing to remember here is to not eat too many. You only want about a handful of nuts and seeds per day.
- Salmon. Fatty fish, such as salmon, are very rich in omega-3 fats. Most Americans are actually deficient in omega-3s, so it’s important to try and include them in your diet (at least two servings per week). You can find omega-3s in Atlantic mackerel, cod liver oil, walnuts, chia seeds, herring, salmon, flaxseeds, albacore tuna, white fish, sardines, hemp seeds, anchovies, and egg yolks.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grass-fed animal products
I hope I was able to shed a little light on fats, and why they're absolutely necessary for your health. If you're interested in learning more about fats, I recommend reading Dr. Mark Hyman's 10 Reasons You Should Eat Fat to Get Thin.
"Eating lots of the right fat will make you thin. The right fats increase metabolism, stimulate fat burning, cut hunger, optimize your cholesterol profile and can reverse type 2 diabetes and reduce your risk for heart disease." -Dr. Mark Hyman