You’ve probably heard by now that ‘good fats’ are good for you; or the statement: ’Eating fats’ doesn‘t make you fat.
Now, more than ever ‘conventional wisdom’ is getting a run for its “Low-Fat, No-Fat” product money as more and more awareness around healthy fats comes to the surface.
However, while you may have heard the statement that “Fats are good for you”… Do you know what fat really is? What fats are good for you? And moreover, why fats are good for you?
“I’ve heard that before…But I really don’t get why? After all, wouldn’t a low-fat diet be healthier for you? Skim milk, lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables?” you may ask.
Let’s do some digging.
For starters: What is fat?
Fats are defined, chemically, as molecules composed of long-chain fatty acids, namely glycerol (triglycerides). They are one of the three main macronutrients that fuel our body with the energy and structure it needs for proper metabolic function (fats, carbohydrates, proteins).
Fat, in fact, is the densest source of energy we can consume. From a “calorie counting” standpoint, there are 9 calories for every 1 gram of fat, as opposed to 4 calories for every gram of protein or carbohydrate.
Knowing this makes it seem as though eating fats would make you fat, right?
While the calorie counting myth is another topic for another day, it’s important to note that your body processes, uses and thrives off fats for a heck of a whole lot more than “love handles” on your waist or cellulite on your thighs.
Our bodies are innately designed (and prefer) to run primarily on fat as a source of energy—supplying our body and brain with continuous fuel throughout the day.
In fact, the human brain is composed of nearly 60% fat, with fatty acids that are critical in facilitating brain performance. Omega 3s (EPA and DHA, such as those found in fish, fish/krill oil, walnuts) in particular, are necessary for proper brain development and function.
Additionally, every single cell in our bodies is surrounded by phospholipids (fatty acids) that provide a barrier and only let in certain molecules. Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what give our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.
Hence, the more quality fats we consume, the ‘stronger’ the cell.
Strong cells allow our bodies to be at their peak: Assimilating our nutrients, keeping out the bad toxins and anti-nutrients, and promoting optimal metabolic processes to occur.
In short, eating fats directly impacts the delivery and uptake of our nutrients so we function better, feel better and look better.
Keeping this in mind, we will address the big question:
Why are fats good for you?
A number of reasons:
- Brain power. The brain is made up of fats and cholesterol, mainly saturated fat. A diet low in fats, especially saturated fats, deprives the brain of the building blocks in needs for proper repair and function.
- Digestion: Fats are required in order to properly digest and assimilate your other nutrients, including the fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E and K.
- Protein use. Fats are necessary to access and use the amino acids in your proteins (i.e. ditch the whites!)
- Satiation. Uncontrollable cravings? Frequently hungry? Cant stop thinking about food? Keep reaching for sweets? Easily lightheaded or shaky before a meal?
- Decrease inflammation. Contrary to popular belief, healthy fats won’t clog your arteries—instead they will allow your cells (as mentioned above) to be at their ‘fittest’ and ‘slickest.’ Saturated fat intake in particular also helps the body reduce levels of lipoprotein, a risk factor for heart disease.
- Stronger immunity. You butter believe it! Saturated fats (i.e. butter, coconut oil, and red palm oil) contain the fatty acids lauric and myristic acid. These are anti-microbial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal, with the ability to decrease infection rates by killing bacteria such as harmful candida yeast.
- Build strong bones. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that regulates mineral balance in the body, which is necessary for building strong teeth and bones. Without fat however, Vitamin D is unable to be used to the fullest.
- Clear skin. Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (i.e. salmon, walnuts, flax seed) help keep inflammation under control. Additionally fats help us absorb our fat soluble vitamins A & E, preventing dry skin and breakouts.
- Hormone regulation. Fats serve as special hormone-like substances (eiconsanoids) that regulate cells’ messengers for performing actions, such as opening and closing different channels to let substances in and out of the cell. Additionally, the body uses cholesterol (fatty acids) as raw material for generating hormones—such as the adrenal hormones (stress hormones) and steroid hormones (sex hormones). When we consume a low fat or no-fat diet, our hormones take a hit (think: more stress, less libido, hormone dysfunction, etc.).
- Metabolism booster. Enzymes are the basic machinery in your cells—responsible for ‘putting things together’ and ‘taking things apart.’ Enzymes are also known as catalysts—because they catalyze reactions in your body and cells that otherwise would not occur. The method your enzymes function is related to the kinds of fatty acids surrounding them in the cell membranes. When there are more fatty acids in the membrane, the enzymes in your cell have ‘well-oiled machinery’ to promote the catalyst processes of a fiery metabolism (high cell function).
Need I go on?
The list is seemingly endless.
Try incorporating a healthy fat source with each of your main meals (at least three times per day). Select from any of the following:
- Raw nuts/seeds
- Nut butter (almond, cashew, walnut, pecan)
- Sunflower seed butter (unsweetened, unsalted)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Fatty cold-water (wild caught) fish (salmon, cod, snapper)
- Coconut butter
- Grass-fed butter
- Unsweetened coconut flakes
- Nitrate free bacon
- Raw almond flour/meal
- Full-fat raw dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt)
- Coconut oil
- Avocado oil
- Walnut oil
- Egg yolks
- Animal meats (grass-fed beef/bison, boneless skinless chicken thighs, drumsticks, etc.)
- Cod liver oil/Fish oil (take 1-2x daily)
The bottom line?
Fat does a body good.
Bon apetit—and bring on the butter.
Check out these two recipes below I experimented with this week, complete with some healthy fats:
Savory Twice-Baked Stuffed Sweet Potatoes
4 medium-sized sweet potatoes
2 cups shredded chicken OR ground meat
4 tablespoons butter, ghee, or coconut oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
full-fat coconut cream for garnish
Wash the sweet potatoes and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 375 for one hour. Let the sweet potatoes cool completely before moving onto the next step. *Tip: you can do this step days ahead and save yourself time.
Cut the top 1/4th of the sweet potato off, creating an opening. Using a spoon, spoon out the majority of the cooked sweet potato but be careful to leave a thick parameter near the skin so that the hallowed-out potato still retains its shape.
Add the butter, cinnamon, salt, and pepper to the mashed sweet potatoes and combine evenly.
Lastly, add the shredded chicken and combine evenly.
Spoon an equal amount of the seasoned sweet potato and chicken mixture back into each of the hallowed-out shells. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes.
To plate, garnish with a dollop of chilled full-fat coconut cream.
Almond Butter Snack Bites
1/2 cup all-natural, creamy almond butter (or your favorite nut butter)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup flaxseed meal
2 tbsp. raw honey
1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
2. Use a spoon to form 12 small ball size bites
3. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks