Despite popular belief, losing weight is not a matter of cutting out all the fattening foods in your diet. It’s a simple calories in and calories out balance. If you eat more calories than you burn then you will likely gain weight. If you burn more calories than you eat, you will sometimes loose weight (I say sometimes because it doesn’t always work like that, and that’s a story for another day). But eating fat in your diet does not mean fat on your belly.
Fat has more than double the calorie amount per gram than carbohydrates and protein. 1 gram of fat totals 9 calories where 1 gram of carbohydrate or protein equals 4 calories. And because of this fact, a lot of people choose to cut out fattening foods when dieting because it tends to be an easier way to reduce unwanted calories. Which is true, and great work figuring that out, but why do we even need fat then if it tends to be the first thing to go?
Well it shouldn’t be. The truth is, we need fat. Fats (or lipids as we tend to call them once they are inside and apart of our body) do the following wonderful things:
- Insulate and protect our organs
- Provide structure to all our cells (aka a cell wall is made of lipids. I know everyone took 9th grade biology here, do you remember the cell mosaic and these little guys? Yep, phospholipids are fats! So unless you want all your cellular contents spilling out all over the place, you need to eat some fat!)
- 60% of your brain is made up of fat. Good luck being a smarty pants with only 40% of your brain…
- Fat soluble vitamins such as Vitamin A, E, K, and D require fat to be absorbed in our bodies.
Even those who have diabetes or insulin resistance who try to combat their condition by switching to low fat or fat-free diets have found adverse effects. Low fat just simply isn’t always the way to go.
So now that you are all convinced that fat is good for you, let’s talk about which food sources really are the best for you. Unsaturated fats are fats that have a double bond break in their carbon chain structure. Notice the double lines between the 6 and 7th C? These fats help to lower risk of heart disease by reducing LDL (the bad cholesterol) and raising HDL (the good cholesterol). Foods would include olives and olive oil, canola oil, avacado, and nuts such as cashews, almonds, and pistachios.
We usually hear mostly about omega-3 oils. (Hint the picture above is an omega-3 fatty acid because the double bond occurs at the third carbon from the “omega” end which is the CH3 end, if anyone cares about organic chemistry…) Omega-3’s are essential, meaning our bodies cannot produce it on it’s own, we must consume it. Omega-3’s can protect your heart from disease, modulate inflammation, support brain function, focus, and memory, alleviate depression, and increase sleep even. Not to brag or anything, but I participated in a omega-3 study evaluating the effect of supplements in reducing pain and promoting happy thoughts. Unfortunately I can’t stick to pill regimens very well and dropped out after 27 days. But I was pain free for 27 days!
Anyways, from unsaturated oils we get ALA, EPA, and DHA. Please don’t ask me to spell out or ever say aloud the full names of these acronyms, thank you. You may have seen DHA on baby formula and supplements. That’s because it is the byproduct from omega-3’s that promotes brain and nervous system development. We get EPA and DHA from fish and other omega-3 products. ALA is a byproduct of omega-6 oils. You can find that in flaxseed oil or meal, pumpkin seeds, tofu, and walnuts.
So if you are confused by all these terms and chemistry jabber, just remember to use olive oil or canola oil for cooking or salad dressings, sprinkle pumpkin seeds or flaxmeal over your oatmeal, smoothies, or soups, have an avocado on your salads and sandwiches, and snack on nuts!
No that we have talked about the good fats, I will hurry up and finish with the not-so-good fats. Saturated fats raise LDL cholesterol, but saturated fats are found in animal products naturally like meats, milk, and cheese. Even the lean varieties have a bit of saturated fat. But we would never want to recommend cutting out animal products, because we should all know that’s how we get the best protein sources, so eat lean cuts and feel fine about having a little bit of saturated fat in the diet. In fact the recommendation is to have about 10% of your fat from saturated sources.
Trans-fats on the other hand is a synthetic fat made from hydrogenation to make foods more shelf stable. You will find these fats in your bakery items, bagged cookies, fast food, some margarine (please read the label) , and hostess pies. These are totally unnecessary in our diets and in fact, harmful. Trans fats raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. So the recommendation here is, try your hardest to never eat these fats. If you are insistent in cutting our fat from your diet, here is where you do that.