Healthy fat one of those topics in nutrition that gets debated a lot, and can be confusing, but there are some important reasons you need to work it in to your healthy eating plan.
Some people say you should eat lots of fat, some people say you should eat barely any fat, some people say you can eat a small amount of fat but should never eat oils…
It gets confusing. Even for me. Trying to write this article has been really difficult. There are so many facets to this topic, and everyone comes at it from a different viewpoint.
The standard American diet is way too high in fats, and usually includes a lot of unhealthy fats. So for someone transitioning from that to a healthier diet, it makes sense to focus on reducing fat.
But it’s just as important to look at the quality of fats you’re eating.
Remember that fat itself isn’t the enemy. Eating unhealthy fats – like animal fats and trans fats – and eating too much fat is the problem for most people these days.
Then the other side of the spectrum is a super low fat diet, which can interfere with your normal metabolism, hormone production and nutrient absorption.
Your body needs enough fat to function and be healthy. And to be clear, eating healthy fat doesn’t make you fat.
You gain weight when you have more calories coming in than going out. When I say that, I’m not limiting it to just eating too much and/or exercising too little.
Your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories) can speed up or slow down based on what you eat, or if you have an imbalance in your glands, hormones or other system.
Now, it is a lot easier to eat too many calories when you eat fat, because they’re more calorie-dense than carbohydrates or protein.
But that doesn’t mean you should avoid fat entirely! A lack of fat in your diet can actually cause that glandular imbalance that leads to weight gain.
Because there are so many articles out there focusing on reducing fat, what I wanted to look at here is why a reasonable amount of healthy fat should be a part of your healthy eating plan…
In order for your body to absorb certain nutrients, it needs healthy fats.
Vitamins A (which includes all of the carotenoids, like beta-carotene), D, E and K are all fat-soluble vitamins, and they need to have some fat with them to absorb into your body.
There are also studies showing that certain antioxidants, like lutein in dark green leafy vegetables and lycopene in tomatoes, need fat for proper absorption.
If you’re into scientific research, you can check out more info on that in these studies: Carotenoid Absorption from Salad and Salsa by Humans Is Enhanced by the Addition of Avocado or Avocado Oil, Carotenoid bioavailability is higher from salads ingested with full-fat than with fat-reduced salad dressings as measured with electrochemical detection
This doesn’t mean you need to eat a whole avocado with every meal. It just means that a little bit of healthy fat in a meal helps you absorb certain nutrients.
When your body burns food – or stored fat – for fuel, it needs to have some carbohydrate, some protein and some fat to work at peak efficiency.
Everyone has a slightly different ratio for the right balance of those 3 macronutrients, but everyone needs all three to run a healthy metabolism.
You can’t force your body into burning up stored fat by not eating any fat. It would be pretty awesome if it were that easy, but in the human body nothing is that straight-forward.
The way to burn stored fat and keep it off, while still living a normal and energetic life, is to eat a healthy balanced diet – including some healthy fat – and getting some exercise.
I know it sounds boring, and is totally cliche… but you know what? It’s a cliche because it’s true!
Fats are crucial to your body’s hormone production and function, which regulate your glands. If your glands get out of balance, your metabolism will be out of balance.
That can lead to weight gain (even when you lower your calorie intake!), a loss of menstruation for the ladies and lots of other issues that I’m sure you’re familiar with from being blamed on hormones.
Incorporating some fat into a meal gives it more of a fullness factor – you feel full longer than if you ate a fat-free version.
My hunger peaks mid-afternoon, and I find that sometimes I could eat a ton of fruit or carrots or anything low in fat and still be ravenous.
It isn’t until I have something fatty that I feel satisfied. And it doesn’t have to be much – just a handful or almonds or some sunflower seed butter on a rice cake will do it.
Fat can be really helpful in the transition to a healthy eating plan. When someone’s used to eating fatty foods, plain brown rice just isn’t satisfying.
Put some avocado cream, seasoned with chives and lime juice, with that brown rice and not only does it taste better but it hits that fat spot that used to be filled by sour cream or some unhealthy fat.
When I’m cooking for people who aren’t used to eating healthy whole plant foods I always use a bit more fat than I normally would for myself.
I want to show people how awesome healthy food can be! Awesome enough that they’ll hopefully try it again.
In the big scheme of things, I figure that a bit more avocado or cashews or coconut oil is way better than bacon or chicken skin.
Do It Now
So – you have my full support and encouragement to eat fat! Just make sure you stick to the healthy ones, and don’t eat too much.
The best source of healthy fat is whole plant foods – avocados, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters.
Grains and beans also have some healthy fat, and there are even small amounts in fruits, vegetables, spices and pretty much every food.
Oils are 100% fat, and aren’t something you should eat as a health food. But they’re also not evil, and you don’t need to totally eliminate oils in order to be healthy.
If you do use oils, it’s really important to choose the right kinds, use them in small quantities, and with minimal exposure to heat.
To check out how much fat you should eat in a day, try my calorie calculator. And then check out this article on how much you can eat to get your fat from healthy foods.
Any questions? Do you eat the right balance of healthy fats?