Of the three main macros, fat has probably gotten the worst rap, with research claiming it causes heart disease, high cholesterol, weight gain, cancer, and more.
To be fair, fat is not the only one to blame. The 19th century saw a decline in food quality, but an increase in food production. Much of it is over-processed, lacks vitamins and minerals, and is filled with empty calories.
So why are fats bad? Inherently, they are not. It’s funny that we do not associate extra virgin olive oil, avocados, or coconuts as unhealthy, but the macronutrient as a whole is “unhealthy”.
Today, I’d like to show you how you can incorporate more fats into your diet, how to avoid the bad stuff, and how to determine whether you want more or fewer fats in your diet depending on your lifestyle!
Fats and Diets
As soon as we were told fat was bad for us, we eliminated it from our diet completely! We began consuming low-fat versions of everything. But now, fats are having their comeback season, with many people choosing a diet that allows up to 80%-90% of fat. There must be something beneficial to eating healthy, nutritious fats, as our generation is starting to see the reversal of many diseases with these low-carb diets, while seemingly indulging in butter and oil.
Low-carb diets may benefit people with type-2 diabetes and heart issues. They have been shown to reduce your blood sugar and insulin levels and to be therapeutic for several brain disorders.
I personally went on a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet a couple of years ago because I heard it could help with cognitive function, mood swings, and weight loss. I was pleasantly surprised that it helped in all of these categories. What I had trouble with was satiation, over-eating, and prep.
A LCHF diet requires one of two things: food preparation OR money. The market is saturated with high-fat products geared toward Keto and Paleo diets. The moment you slap high-fat on a product, the price goes up exponentially! Therefore, my only option was to buy snacks as a treat but make the majority of my meals at home. I tend to get bored of foods pretty easily. I don’t know it at the time, but I know I’m starting to get bored of a meal/food when I start to over-eat. Because over-eating has been a concern of mine for many years, I decided to stop eating a high-fat diet and decided a more balanced macro breakdown was a better option for me.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fats
There are healthy and less healthy versions of fats. I won’t classify them as good or bad, because I like to see people following more moderation than strict dieting routines. However, in the United States, most oils and fats are consumed in packaged foods, such as salad dressings and potato chips, which are not healthy options. These are convenient and hyper-palatable foods; the perfect combination of fat, sodium, sugar, and carbs, which makes it tastier than it would otherwise be.
Too much unhealthy fat can increase your risk of heart disease and weight gain. These are things to keep in mind, as there are always risks in a LCHF diet if you are not eating enough of the healthier fats and only consuming artery-hardening (Atherosclerosis) fats.
Here’s a bit of information about the fats you want to increase in your diet:
These stay liquid at room temperature because of their structural bond. These were discovered to be healthy beginning in the 1960s, with the ever-popular Mediterranean diet. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
These can be found in animal and plant food, like salmon, vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds. They include Omega-3 and -6 fats, essential fatty acids that the body cannot produce on its own. They are only available from food.
Here are the fats you want to limit (or eliminate):
These increase levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower “good” HDL cholesterol, which can be damaging to your arteries. They can be found in many commercially prepared baked foods, processed foods, margarine, shortening, and animal fat. That being said, some of these in small doses are okay on a high-fat diet. For example, I rarely make bacon, but when I do find one with no sugar or nitrites, I’ll cook it up and save the bacon fat. I will use this fat to cook eggs, grease pots and pans, and for extra bacon flavor on any/all of my foods! I use small amounts moderately.
These fats are found in all animal foods and some plant sources. Avoid or limit foods like baked goods (cake, donuts), fried foods (meat, fries), fatty or processed meats (bacon, sausage, cheeseburgers, steak), whole-fat dairy products, solid fats like coconut oil, palm oil, and other palm kernel oils usually found in packaged foods. Again, looking at this list, you can see that some of these things can likely still stay in your diet even if eaten 3x a week. Most people aren’t going to go into their cupboard and toss out their perfectly good coconut oil, or go ripping the skin off their chicken. These fats add flavor and reduce the dryness of many foods.
Eliminate where you can, and reduce everywhere else. It’s nice to still be able to enjoy foods with fat, whether the source is healthy or not. That’s what balance is all about. If you feel ready to buckle down and eliminate the sources you know are not good for you, more power to you!
Who Should Be On A High-Fat Diet?
Many doctors are now touting that dietary fats are actually the preferred fuel for human metabolism. This can be traced back to our evolutionary roots. When you limit carbs, fat is able to enter your cells and is burnt for energy. In order to manage long-term weight loss/gain, and good health, one must maintain healthy mitochondrial function. In order to do that, one needs to figure out the correct net carb, protein, and fat ratio for them.
Some Influencers/Doctors who endorse high-fat diets are:
- Pegan endorser and functional medicine extraordinaire: Dr. Mark Hyman
- 16-year high-fat veteran: Dr. Jay Wortman
- Co-founder of Ancient Nutrition: Dr. Josh Axe
- Wellness writer and health debunker: Max Lugavere
- Intermittent fasting & low-carb expert: Dr. Jason Fung
Low-carb diets can have a place in your nutrition plan, but it’s definitely not for everyone. If you like high-intensity workouts like CrossFit or group fitness classes, your body definitely needs carbs. You can likely train your body to tolerate fats more than carbs, but it will take time. If, on the other hand, you enjoy low-intensity exercise or long walks, you can play around with a low-carb plan and see if it works for you.
Although some say it can speed muscle recovery, can boost fat burning, and may improve endurance, many also say that some drawbacks include decreased energy levels and impaired muscle growth.
It has also worked really well for those looking to lose a lot of weight, reduce the chance or reverse Type 2 diabetes (maybe get off of medication!), reduce the chance of heart disease, eliminate acne, PCOS, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some ways to get started:
- Replace red meats with skinless chicken or fish a few days a week. Or try a plant-based alternative!
- Use canola or olive oil instead of butter and other solid fats. I personally love butter with my eggs and that’s all I use it for! I used to put it in my bullet-proof coffee, too!
- Replace whole-fat dairy with dairy-free alternatives (no sugar added!). I’m not a big fan of low-fat dairy, but if you are, that’s an option.
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other foods with low or no saturated fat.
Have you ever tried a low-carb diet? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below!
Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.
When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as hiking, photography, listening to podcasts, or playing video games. She is constantly working toward finding natural solutions to live a balanced lifestyle, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness in everything she does.