After decades of thinking all fat is bad fat and that it actually causes us to get fat, it turns out that not all fats are created equal…
In fact, some fats are actually good for you. Certain ‘fat soluble’ vitamins such as A, D, E and K, can only be absorbed by the body if consumed with some sort of fat, and there are various parts of your body, including your heart and your brain, that need good fats to run smoothly and stay healthy.
At first glance, scientists thought it made sense to cut fat from your diet when you want to lose excess body fat, and this misunderstanding has been preached and followed by millions of people for decades. It’s been the nutritional basis behind every single diet from 1950 to fairly recently hasn’t it?
It’s led to the development and sale of countless ‘low fat’ and ‘fat free’ foods that still populate our supermarket shelves today. The idea of eating low fat has become deeply ingrained into our collective cultural conscious.
The only problem is… for most people, it doesn’t work. Especially not long term.
Yes, you can lose weight on a low calorie, lower fat diet. Plenty of people have done it. But for most people it’s not sustainable, it takes a lot of willpower, and it doesn’t lead to long term health benefits.
The vast majority of people end up giving up, and then yo-yo back to their original weight and end up putting on even more than they lost in the first place.
Continual calorie counting just isn’t good for your metabolism!
Our bodies are genetically engineered to crave fat. It’s what keeps us going, keeps us warm, and keeps up our energy levels. Each and every cell in our body has fat surrounding it, and it’s these fats which give our cells insulation and allow messages and nutrients to be transported into your cells, and waste products out.
Whilst good fats do have more calories than the same amount of carbs or protein, they take much longer to digest. The result? They keep us feeling full and satisfied much longer than any other type of food.
So, does that mean you can run off and fry up a mountain of streaky bacon in melted butter for breakfast? Of course not. I’m certainly not a fan of eating loads of fried foods and endless amounts of fats.
Balance is the name of the game when it comes to healthy weight loss. Secondly, not all fats are created equal.
Good fats like those found in olive oil, oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, plus avocado, nuts and seeds, help to nourish your brain, your eyes, hair, and even the walls of every single cell of your body. They are also important for hormonal well-being (your hormones are mainly made up of fats), and without fat your nervous system cannot function.
In short, consuming healthy fats is important and there are quite a few fatty foods out there that are actually really good for you.
Let’s quickly run through a few sources of healthy fats that you might want to eat more of.
Avocado: One of my favourite healthy fats, it’s packed with monounsaturated diet (which features heavily in the Mediterranean diet, as well as heart healthy Vitamin E). Add this delicious fruit to salads, sandwiches to replace butter, wraps, or put some slices on top of eggs or grilled meat. Avocados are also delicious mashed up on toast, turned into guacamole and even in smoothies!
Coconut Oil: Start your day with a healthy fat boost by adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to your coffee. This oil received a bit of bad press recently but in real terms coconut oil is good for you when consumed in balance (just like everything else!) It’s great for cooking eggs or sauteeing veggies.
Olive Oil: Olive oil makes a great base for salad dressings. It can be used to finish and flavour all sorts of food. Look for cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil to dress your salads – and don’t waste this fantastic oil in your frying pan, or you’ll be destroying a lot of the goodness. Instead use coconut oil or some butter for cooking, and keep your cold pressed extra virgin olive oil for dressing salads or veggies.
Nuts and Seeds: Another healthy snack that you can keep at your desk, in your bag, in your car and in your cupboards is various nuts and seeds. They are full of healthy fats, vitamins and mineral. Eat them on their own, make your own healthy trail mix, or sprinkle them on your salad. Remember when buying nuts and seeds, avoid the roasted, sweetened or salted versions – instead buying the plain version. You can also use nut butters such as Whole Earth, Pip and Nut or Meridian, all available now in supermarkets.
Do also remember to watch how many nuts and seeds you consume – you can have too much of a good thing! A handful of two per day is ideal… and research shows that nut eaters seem to live longer than those who don’t eat nuts! Flaxseeds and chia seeds are especially rich in heart and brain healthy omega 3 fats, and a must for those on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your porridge or yoghurt every day.
Omega 3 rich oily fish: I couldn’t write an article about healthy fats without talking about omega 3 rich oily fish. Mackerel and sardines are the best source of omega 3, with salmon and fresh tuna also contributing (but most salmon are now farmed, so not as rich in omega 3 fats as they used to be). Research looking at the health of different populations has clearly demonstrated a benefit to eating fish – with fish eaters generally living longer. I always advise my pescatarians and non-vegetarians to include oily fish 2 to 3 times per week (but don’t overdo the tuna as it can be quite high in mercury). If you’re not a fish fan, do consider supplementing an omega 3 fish oil – the health benefits have been studied extensively and very much linked to heart and brain health, and helping to reduce inflammation around the body.
I’ll be including more details on how to get your family to eat more fish in my blog post in a couple of weeks, with a downloadable PDF packed with advice.
Toasted Super Seeds Recipe
If your family isn’t keen on seeds (no they are not just for birds), then this is a great way to get them on board! Add to salads, soups and stir fries.
Put a handful of mixed seeds into a dry pan over a medium heat. Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds work well, you could also add in some amaranth for crunch or some pine nuts. When they start to pop and jump a bit, add half to 1 teaspoon of tamari/soya sauce and stir well for about 1 minute. Serve on salad or as a tasty snack. You can also make a sweet version by using cinnamon, vanilla extract and a teaspoon of maple syrup.
You can also add seeds to your baking – from flapjacks to cakes. If your family aren’t keen, just grind them up first!
The most important lesson I want you to take away from this post is that all fat isn’t bad for you. Some sources of fat are better for you than others, but overall, it’s not the enemy we’ve so long thought it was.