If you’re fat-phobic I’ll also guess that you probably struggle to maintain a healthy weight. That’s because forgoing fat in order to get thin most often backfires, and may be one of the worst things you can do for your waistline. In fact, eating a low- or no-fat diet may be more likely to make you gain weight than eating a diet with modest to liberal amounts of healthy fats.
One of our favorite “fat habits” is trying to avoid fat-rich foods in order to lose weight. These are people who look for two words on food labels—“fat free”—believing that cutting down on fat, or trying to eliminate it altogether, will result in pounds lost.
Problem is, fat is essential to your health and it helps slow digestion and triggers feelings of fullness, so you actually are more satisfied with what you’re eating. In addition, newer studies show that you can have liberal amounts of fat in your diet from sources like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts and nut butters, without worrying about your heart’s health. However, foods rich in saturated fats or trans fats are still considered off-limits because they can raise your risk for heart disease. Saturated fats are found in fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, coconut oil, lard and butter. It’s the quality not quantity of fat that’s important.
Healthy fats provide provide mono and polyunsaturated fats that are actually heart-healthy. Dietary fat also provides essential fatty acids that the body requires just like it does vitamins A, C or E. What’s more, many vitamins are fat-soluble, so unless you eat them with some fat, they’re poorly absorbed. Fall also helps you feel satisfied on fewer calories because dietary fat actually slows the digestion of protein and carbohydrates, so you stay fuller longer. In addition, a recent study found that olive oil-infused foods enhanced satiety, and just the smell of olive oil was found to trigger brain chemicals that help us feel full.
Because most women who struggle with weight overeat carbs (not fats), I believe that enjoying some fat and cutting out some carbohydrates, often helps them get the scale headed south. Blood sugar is thought to be one of the key triggers of hunger and cravings. When blood sugar levels drop, Since fats don’t increase blood sugar levels and insulin, they don’t trigger cravings for more carbs. The Mediterranean diet, long considered the healthiest way to eat, actually gets nearly 40% of it’s calories from fat. We advocate a diet that gets about 25% of calories from protein, 35-40% from fat and the remainder from carbohydrates.
To eat this way, a good source of protein should be at each meal and we focus on lean proteins (no fried foods!). For fats, we use extra virgin olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, avocados, nuts and nut butter. If you’re wondering about coconut oil, be sure to read up on the real facts about it.
Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., CSSD
Co-Author, 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions (Penguin, 2013)
Appetite for Health