Getting Fit with Fat- The top 5 reasons to get enough fat in your diet
It seems that the decades-old fat phobia is finally on its way out. And good riddance! I have to admit, when I was a young athlete and just starting to learn about nutrition, I too held my biases against fat. Thinking butter and nuts were bad, I would opt for bagels and rice. But as I delved deeper into my nutrition studies, I quickly learned that fats were not created equal and that a sound diet is based on a foundation of eating adequate fats from whole foods. I also learned that trans fats (which are mainly manmade) are a big reason for the cardiovascular health epidemic. The misinformation presented over the years has directed Americans to choose margarine and processed vegetable oils over butter or olive oil. And although I don’t advocate for unlimited saturated animal fat, I do think it has its place in a balanced diet.
So why do I love fat so much?
- It is the most effective food group for balancing blood sugars. Blood sugar control should be the primary goal of someone’s diet. When you have sufficient fat in a meal, your absorption of the sugar from the carbohydrate rich foods is slowed, so you don’t get those rapid ups and downs in blood sugar levels. This improves energy, focus and will keep insulin levels down. Elevated insulin is the main reason most of us gain weight!
- It is essential. Well, some fats are anyway. The fats we get from fish, nuts and seeds are very important because our bodies don’t make them on their own.
- They are building blocks for the body. We often think of protein as the building blocks and fat as energy, but many fats also play a role as precursors to hormones like testosterone and make up a large part of cell membranes. Without healthy, fluid cells, disease will follow!
- They provide the best example of why you should eat mostly WHOLE foods. Many fats like the omega essential fatty acids found in nuts and seeds are very unstable and can become damaged when exposed to light, heat or oxygen. Getting these fats from fresh, whole, raw sources that are naturally protected in their shells is the most healthful way to eat them and get their benefits.
- They make food taste good! Food should taste good and you should enjoy it. Enough said!
The types and amounts of fats one should eat vary from person to person. I do recommend that most adults aim for at least three and closer to four to five servings of fat per meal. (See below for serving sizes.) The types of fat you get from avocados and olives are different from those in nuts and seeds and different again from coconut and animal or fish fat. The quality of these foods, especially animal fat, makes a big difference. Avoid factory farmed meat and instead opt for pasture raised meat which contains more anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. A skilled nutritionist can help you find the variety of fats that works best for you.
I hope I have helped you let go of any biases you may have against fat. Fat won’t make you fat unless you eat too much, which is the case with all food. And, if eaten correctly, may be the best way for you to obtain and maintain a healthy body composition and weight.
Enjoy and be well,
A serving of fat is approximately:
- 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive, grass-fed butter, coconut oil
- ¼ avocado
- 1 tablespoon of seeds
- 8 to 12 nuts or ½ tablespoon nut butter
- 8 olives
- 1 ounce of dark meat or fatty fish (sardines, anchovies, Alaskan salmon)