It was only a couple decades ago that the mainstream believed a diet high in fat would make us fat. Food manufacturers began stripping the fat from many packaged items and replaced what was lost in flavor with sugar and other additives. In the years that followed, we saw a steady rise of individuals gaining weight. Not many people made the connection however, this excess intake of sugar with refined grains was primarily at fault. Instead, fat remained the villain. In the aftermath of the Atkins diet mania, the health industry sent out a new message—a low-fat diet didn’t have any health benefits, with the exception of limiting saturated fat. Fast forward into more recent years, and still, we’re getting bombarded with mixed messages. As a personal trainer, I hear all sorts of ongoing debates. One week the fat in egg yolks is bad for us, the next week, it’s all good.
To get the facts straight, we really need to put on our thinking caps. First, there’s great news for anyone still stuck in the anti-fat era—healthy fats will actually help your body burn fat! That’s right, you read it correctly, but I did say healthy fats. Not all fat is created equal. It’s crucial to recognize the different types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. As an example, the other day my husband was TV channel surfing and flipped over to the Food Network. We watched a chef take chunks of mainly pork fat, soak it in a bucket of lard overnight, and then drop it in a deep-fryer the next day. Holy guacamole! That kind of fat is heavily saturated and not the healthy kind I’m referring to. But before you start skipping the butter in your mashed potatoes, let me clarify that when it comes to saturated fat, we should not expect an oversimplified interpretation.
Saturated fat by itself is not necessarily unhealthy. First, we need to consider the source. Is it plant or animal based? For instance, coconut oil is a saturated fat with several health benefits. Second, we need to consider the amount. We’ve all heard the warnings that eating too much saturated fat can lead to artery-clogging atherosclerosis. As a general guideline, saturated fat should not exceed 22 grams per day. People are confused and misled about fat because there is much to learn.
Perhaps a crash course on fat would be helpful. Fat is one of the three essential macronutrients along with protein and carbohydrates that are needed for good health. It contains a hefty nine calories per gram in contrast to protein and carbs which each contain four. Fat is critical for healthy hormone production and to help your body absorb and utilize the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Eating too little fat doesn’t provide the proper insulation to keep you warm and it can throw your hormones off balance. If your hormones aren’t working properly, this could make your body less effective at burning fat and regulating body composition. Fat is necessary to help the brain function properly and it increases feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. Without enough, this can interfere with appetite control because nothing seems to satisfy your hunger or food cravings. Consequently, if you’re continually overeating you won’t be losing fat, you’ll be storing more of it!
For many people however, the effects of fat are controversial. If the calories are more than double those in a gram of protein or carbs, is it realistically possible that fat can help our body burn fat? Again, that depends on the type of fat and the effect it has on our metabolic system. For example, an avocado is loaded with calories because of its high fat content, but this isn’t a bad thing. It’s mostly monounsaturated fat which can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Also, avocados contain L-carnitine—an amino acid used by our body’s liver to facilitate fat metabolism. Basically, this means our body relies on L-carnitine to help us burn fat. In fact, L-carnitine is frequently sold as a supplement for weight loss. The timing is perfect to celebrate Cinco de Mayo—bring on that holy guacamole!
Fortunately, the benefits of good-quality fat doesn’t stop with the avocado. Another healthy fat that I discuss in my book is omega-3 fatty acids. This is categorized as a polyunsaturated fat and it’s essential to a balanced diet. Some good sources include fish, walnuts and ground flaxseed. Increasing our healthy fat intake can help us in numerous ways, from reducing inflammation in our joints to helping curb our appetite. Remember, keep that thinking cap on! A healthy diet should have the right proportion of each macronutrient and it should stay within your daily caloric needs. If you want to lose weight before hitting the beach this summer, don’t get duped by a quick-fix scheme; read The Proactive Health Solution and discover everything you really need to know to burn off those unwanted pounds of fat.
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