Low-fat, no-fat, no nuts, etc… you’ve probably heard about all of these diet fads, and you might have even tried one of them yourself. It’s crazy how frequently I talk to clients who still believe in the whole low-fat thing for health.
But it’s not their fault; there are many in the diet world who still view low-fat as the pinnacle of health and higher fat foods as pretty much evil. But let’s set that straight. Fats aren’t bad, and healthy fats are important for a healthy diet.
What Are Healthy Fats?
Although all dietary fats are nine calories per gram, not all fats are created equal when it comes to health. Therefore, to understand the importance of fats, you also have to understand which types of fats are good for you.
Fats to Include in Your Diet
Here are the fats that can be incorporated as part of a healthy diet:
Monounsaturated fats: You’ll find these fats in healthy foods like nuts, avocados, and olive oil.
Polyunsaturated fats: These can be found in oils like safflower and sunflower and some nuts and seeds. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3s and omega-6s.
Omega-3 and -6 Essential Fatty Acids: Known as “essential” because the body can’t produce them on its own, you don’t want to miss these fats in your diet. You’ll find omega-3s in fatty fish, nuts like walnuts, flaxseed, and some grass-fed meats.
You’ll find omega-6 fats in foods like nuts, healthy oils, and animal products. Both types of essential fatty acids are important to include in the diet, and omega-3s are especially important for overall health; they’ve been linked to better brain and heart health, less inflammation, reduced cholesterol, and good cholesterol.
Fats to Avoid or Limit
While the fats above are definitely important as part of a healthy diet, there are also some fats that should be limited or completely avoided:
Trans fats: These fats are man made from adding hydrogen to vegetable oils so they become more solid and shelf-stable. They’re used in a lot of packaged and processed products, some fast foods, and margarines. It’s best to just avoid these types of fats completely, as they lower your good cholesterol, increase bad cholesterol, and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems.
Why Healthy Fats are Good for You
Since fats are more calorically dense than carbs or protein, many people assume they should be the first to go when trying to lose weight. But this is not the best approach because healthy fats have many benefits, including:
More satiety. It’s common for people to struggle with feeling satisfied while eating too low fat. The simple fact is that fats are just satisfying. Including some healthy fat in each of your meals or snacks is a good way to feel fuller longer and reduce binging or overeating later in the day.
Less inflammation. Omega-3s are helpful in fighting inflammation in the body, which some experts say is the cause of many of our most common modern disease, along with the benefits I mentioned above.
Better absorption. Including some fat with your food, especially with vegetables, is a great way to increase the absorption of important nutrients.
Improved blood sugar. Healthy fats may be able to help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by having a positive influence on insulin sensitivity.
How to Use More Healthy Fats
If you’re new to healthy fats or used to avoiding them, there are a lot of great ways to add them into your diet:
Cook and bake with healthy oils, such as coconut, olive (including extra-virgin olive oil), and avocado oils.
Make nut-based dressings and sauces to pour over your salads or other dishes. Peanuts and cashews can be great for these. There are a lot of great recipes online.
Make hummus with tahini or healthy oils. Serve with carrots or other veggies.
Add nuts, avocado, or fish to your meals. For example, you could make oatmeal in the morning with a handful of walnuts stirred in (great source of omega-3s) or add a few slices of avocado to a rice pilaf dish.
A good rule of thumb is to be skeptical of any diet cutting out whole food groups, and fat is no exception. Including healthy, whole food sources of fat in your diet is a great way to continually support a wholesome lifestyle.