There is a big misconception when dieting that you should avoid fat to get lean. At first, it makes sense. Fat sounds like it would make you fat, right? It's not true. Granted, too much of anything can cause health issues, but fats, at least the good ones which we will talk about shortly, are vital to your health.
We have all joked about shedding our "winter layer", and that's because fat provides a layer of insulation under the skin to protect us from the cold and the heat as well. So come summer, you may want to reduce the layer, but having some fat is important. It surrounds and insulates nerve fibers to help transmit nerve impulses and protects organs and bones from shock. Your body also uses fat to make many other building blocks to support immune function and produce hormones.
For the body to absorb many nutrients, it needs a transport mechanism. Many vitamins are fat soluble like vitamins A, E, and K. Not having an adequate intake of fat means you will become deficient in these critical nutrients. When we don't eat enough good fats, side effects occur. These include hair loss, cold intolerance, bruising, poor growth, low resistance to infection, dry and scaly skin, slow wound healing, and for women, loss of the menstrual cycle.
We need to eat some fat in our diet because fat provides energy in a concentrated source. Because it's so concentrated, it can become easy to go overboard and eat too much. Fat contains twice as many calories as carbohydrates and protein per gram. After 4-6 hours of not eating, fat provides a back up energy source.
Low fat diets also tend to trigger cravings, since fat helps food stay in the stomach longer - providing a sense of fullness and satisfaction. That feeling also is because fat helps the body to produce and release endorphins, chemicals in the brain that give us a calm and pleasurable feeling.
As you can see, fat plays a critical role in our body. Lets talk about what fats you should be eating regularly.
Avocados are about 75% fat, by calories, making them even higher in fat than most animal foods. But it's the good kind, monounsaturated fat. The main fatty acid in avocados is called oleic acid, which is associated with various health benefits.
Even though they are high in fat and calories, one study shows that people who eat avocados tend to weigh less and have less belly fat than those who don’t. In another study, people who added a fresh avocado half to their lunch were less interested in eating during the next three hours.
Avocados provide approximately 20 vitamins and minerals per serving. Avocados are among the best sources of potassium available, containing 40% more than bananas, and are also a great source of fiber. Studies have shown that they can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, while raising HDL (good) cholesterol.
They also contain lutein which protects the eyes, folate for cell repair, and are a good source of B vitamins, which fight disease and infection. Avocados also provide vitamins C and E, are low in sugar, and contain fiber which helps you feel full longer.
This will be music to most women's ears (mine included) but dark chocolate is one of those rare foods that actually tastes good while being good for you. Dark chocolate is very high in fat, about 65% of the total calories. and contains 11% fiber as well as over 50% of the RDA for iron, magnesium, copper and manganese. If you plan to include dark chocolate in your diet, its important to find a source which is at least 70% cocoa to reap the benefits.
Dark chocolate is one of the highest scoring foods for antioxidant content, outranking blueberries. The potent antioxidants in dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and protect LDL cholesterol in the blood from becoming oxidized. Studies show that people who eat 5 or more servings per week of dark chocolate are less than half as likely to die from heart disease, compared to people who don’t eat it. Other studies support that dark chocolate can improve brain function, and protect your skin from damage when exposed to the sun.
Out of all the healthy fats and oils you could include in your diet, extra virgin olive oil might be the top choice. An essential part of the Mediterranean diet, olives and extra virgin olive oil contain powerful antioxidants which can fight inflammation and help protect LDL cholesterol from becoming oxidized. It also contains vitamins E and K, and has been shown to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol markers, and shield against heart disease risk and skin cancer. Olive oil is packed with anti-aging polyphenols which keep wrinkles from forming.
Olive oil has many uses outside the body of particular interest to women. It can be used as a pre-shampoo conditioner, lip scrub, eczema remedy, skin balm that is antibacterial, cuticle treatment to grow longer and stronger nails, and even a make up remover and make up brush cleaner.
Flax Seed Oil
Flax seed oil is a popular choice of vegans and vegetarians who need a non-animal source of Omega-3 fats. Most people get these fats from fish, but with many reports of mercury being found in fish, flax makes a good alternative. The Omega 3 fat in flax seed oil is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is essential for normal human growth and development. Flax is also a natural laxative, so don't eat to much, helping the digestive system to function properly and shed toxins. That shedding effect may be why some studies show that flax helped dieters lose weight.
This oil is also linked with healthier brains slower brain aging, better moods, and decreased inflammation in the body. I also want to mention that flax, like all of the oils I am recommending, has cosmetic benefits as well. These include healthier skin and hair, while alleviating conditions like eczema, dry skin, and even sunburned skin when applied topically. An added benefit of flax seed oil is combating cellulite. As part of a recipe with coconut oil, flax helps to increase the body's production of collagen.
I covered the uses of coconut oil in another article, but I will focus on the health benefits for this article.
Coconuts and coconut oil are the richest source of saturated fat around, containing about 90% of the fat. Even with the high saturated fat content, populations that consume large amounts of coconut do not have high levels of heart disease. That's because they contain fats that are different than most other fats: medium-chain fatty acids.
MCT is metabolized differently, going straight to the liver where it can be converted into ketone bodies for energy in a short period of time. Studies have shown that medium-chain fats help to suppress the appetite. This helps you eat fewer calories while boosting your metabolism by up to 120 calories per day. So coconut oil may give you the healthy energy boost you need in the gym while protecting your heart.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts are incredibly healthy, provide energy, and are full of healthy fats including polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated. They are a good plant-based source of protein and fiber, which is the reason why many vegans and vegetarians make them a staple in their diet. Nuts are also full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants including calcium, potassium, zinc, folic acid, and high amounts of vitamin E. Most people don’t get enough magnesium, and nuts contain plenty of it. Because of the fiber content, nuts cleanse the digestive tract.
Among your choices in healthy nuts are almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts and many others. Studies show that people who consume nuts tend to be healthier, with a lower risk of several diseases like heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Chia seeds are available in every supermarket now, and for good reason. They are a tiny nutritional powerhouse. A one ounce serving of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 5 grams of Omega-3s, and a high percentage of the RDA for magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and calcium. That's impressive when you consider a serving only contains one gram of digestible carbohydrate.
I have given you a big list of healthy fats to include in your diet. Please let me know how you changed your diet to include some of these items, and how it has worked for you. I would expect you to see positive changes by including the right fats, such as clearer skin and healthier hair, but also a weight reduction if other aspects of your diet are in place. Since many of these items include a host of vitamins, expect to also feel a change in mental clarity and focus, as well as improved over all well being from the vitamins.
Brooke Bailey is a personal trainer, masseuse, and student in health and wellness.
She currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Follow her on Facebook.