I find it ironic that in the US, we have the highest incidence of obesity in the world, and yet we have become a low fat, no- fat obsessed nation. In the last 3 decades, everything has become fat free, low fat, and no trans-fat in just about every food product on the shelves….it goes on and on. There is even now low-fat peanut butter! (Really? How in the world do you make peanut butter low-fat?) But something is terribly wrong. Americans have become more conscious of eliminating fat from their diets, but the decline in obesity, cancer, diabetes and heart disease has increased. According to the Journal of American Medicine, more than one-third (34.9% or 76.8 million) of U.S. adults are obese. Obesity in children has more than doubled in the past thirty years. This is a far cry from the 1950s and 60s when it was perfectly healthy for kids to eat red meat, drink whole milk and eat peanut butter. And obesity in children was practically unheard of! As a health enthusiast, I believe we as a nation, are looking at the wrong solution in the war against obesity. Low fat, zero fat, non-fat no trans-fats… Whatever you call it- it is not working. We have reduced healthy dietary sources of fat in our diets with no-fat food products and we are now paying the price. Obesity is on the rise, and heart disease, cancer and diabetes are increasing. Food manufacturers have replaced fat in foods with refined sugars. It’s little wonder that we, as a nation, are getting fatter, and with an increase in degenerative diseases every year.
THE BENEFITS OF FAT
Fat is healthy for us if it’s the right kind of fat: and that’s the key- getting healthy fats into our diet. Let’s look at the benefits of fats and what fats we should be eating.
What Fat does for the body:
• Fat serves as a base for carrying vitamins A, D and E.
• A diet high in unsaturated fats can help reduce cholesterol and heart disease.
• Unsaturated fats such as healthy Omega 3s have been shown to protect arteries.
• Healthy fats, such as unsaturated fats, reduce cravings, increase metabolism and balance the hormones in our bodies.
• MUSF (Monounsatured Fats) have been shown to reduce risk of breast cancer and strokes.
FAT DOES NOT MAKE US FAT
Contrary to popular belief, fat does not make us fat. When we incorporate healthy fats into the body, the body utilizes them in a way that will not store them as extra body fat- provided we are eating clean and eliminating processed foods from our diets.
SO WHAT MAKES US FAT?
Since fat is not the culprit, what is making America an obese nation? Hint: you find it in just about every processed food in your local supermarket. That’s right- sugar. Sugar is what is making us as a nation fatter every year. Why? Because when processed sugar is ingested, two things take place within the body that triggers fat gain:
1. Sugar stimulates your appetite and encourages you to overeat. When we consistently eat processed foods, we are never satiated because of the sugar content stimulating our appetites. So we go back for more and more which leads to fat gain. The sugar is converted into glucose which is stored in the liver and muscles: but the body can only store so much, so the rest is converted into fatty acids and distributed in the areas where we normally hold adipose fat cells (buttocks, hips thighs, stomach).
2. When we ingest processed sugar, this stimulates the release of insulin from the pancreas. Ever feel the rush from a sugar high after chowing down on a donut or candy bar? This is our sugar levels sky rocketing. In response, the pancreas must release insulin to bring those sugar levels down, or we would go into shock and die. Sounds like a pretty good safety mechanism the body puts in place, right? Well, yes and no. Although the insulin release brings our sugar levels down and prevents shock and potentially death, this release of insulin also produces fat gain. Why? Because insulin is a fat-producing hormone.
ELIMINATE PROCESSED, NO FAT, SUGARY FOODS TO LOSE WEIGHT AND FEEL BETTER
Start eliminating or greatly reduce your intake of processed sugary foods. Remember, if the claim on the box says no fat, low fat, or no trans-fat, you can be sure it’s loaded with sugar. And it is nothing more than a deception by the food marketers to trick you into believing their product is contributing to your health. Don’t believe it, it’s a lie.
CUT BACK ON PROCESSED SUGARS AND INCREASE THOSE AMAZING FATS
Start increasing your fat intake today. Remember, you do not need to cut back on carbs to incorporate more fat into your diet. Just choose your carbs wisely (and this means eliminating processed carbs). There is a misconception in the dieting paradigm today that in order to increase fat intake, you need to go to very low or zero carbohydrate intake. This is not only false, it’s unhealthy. We need good healthy carbs just as much as we need healthy fats. Stick to healthy low glycemic carbs such as flourless bread, millet, legumes, and fruits with a medium to low glycemic index and your increased intake of healthy fats will work very nicely with your healthy carb intake in supporting your weight loss efforts.
The following is a list of some, although certainly not exclusive, the best healthy fats everyone should be incorporating into their diet:
Avocados– This amazing food has gotten a bad rap over the years as being a food to steer clear of because of its high fat content. While it’s true an avocado has about 30 grams of fat, the fat in avocados provides research supported health benefits. The flesh of the avocado contains three properties: phytoserosis, polyhydroxylated fatty fats and oleic acid. These three properties account for the major portion of our inflammatory system and help keep inflammation under control. Oleic acid, very similar to the fats in olive oil, help our digestive tract form transport molecules for fat that increase the body’s absorption of critical fat soluble nutrients like carotenoids.
Olive Oil-This amazing food has been used for over 4,000 years for health and beauty. Like avocados, olive oil has wonderful anti-inflammatory effects. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and arthritis. Olive oil protects our cardiovascular system by the use of polyphenols which protect arteries and prevent blood platelets from clumping together. Both extra virgin and mild light varieties of olive oil are both excellent. All varieties of olive oil are excellent alternatives to the more unhealthy oils such as canola, peanut and vegetable oils.
Flax Seeds– This tiny seed packs a powerful punch. This healthy fat should be incorporated into anyone’s diet seeking better health. Flax seeds are high in B vitamins and minerals, especially the minerals magnesium and manganese. As scientists learn more and more about this amazing seed, the list of benefits of consuming flax continues to grow:
• Flax seeds contain fiber both soluble and insoluble fiber.
• Flax seeds contain phytochemicals and powerful antioxidants such as lignans. Lignans are a chemical compound that is found in most plant foods. Lignans have anticarcengenic effects which may help prevent cancers.
• Flax seeds are rich in omega III fatty acids. I have mentioned this crucial fat before that is necessary for good heart health. Flax contains a plant version of omega IIIs called Alpha- Linoleic Acid (ALA). Flaxseed oil is about 50% ALA.
• Flax seeds improve the immune system by decreasing inflammation.
Nut Butters– Nut butters, such as pecan and almond butters, are an excellent addition to healthy eating. I recommend making your own nut butters since many commercial brands make them with roasted nuts and added salt. I make almond and pecan butter using my juicer to mix raw almonds and pecans with olive oil.
Salmon– I’m often asked, “Can you get healthy fats from animal sources?” And the answer is: yes! Fatty fish, such as Atlantic salmon, is an excellent source of fatty omega 3 acids. Our bodies cannot produce these critical fatty acids, which are necessary for heart health. Eating salmon twice a week delivers plenty of these heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Almonds– This is one of the most beloved and popular nuts to eat, and it’s a reputation well-deserved. Eating no more than just a handful of these tasty nuts helps promote heart health and prevents weight gain. Almonds are rich with vitamin E, calcium and potassium. Almonds are rich in fiber and protein and naturally low in sugar. Almonds, as with most nuts, are an appetite depressant. If you feel hunger pains, try eating a handful of almonds. The hunger pains will disappear, and you will feel comfortably satiated.
Pecans– Pecans belong to the Hickory family. And like other members of the hickory tree, pecans are not really a nut, but a fruit. These buttery, rich flavored tree-nuts are one of the most popular foods used in many recipes and are just as delicious eaten alone. Pecans are loaded with monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid and an excellent source of antioxidants. The addition of pecan nuts in the diet helps to decrease total as well as LDL (low density lipoproteins) or “bad cholesterol” and increases HDL (high density lipoproteins) or “good cholesterol” levels in the blood. Pecans are an excellent source of vitamin E and are rich in B vitamins B6, Thiamin, Niacin and riboflavin.
HEALTHY SATURATED FATS
Shredded Coconut– Shredded coconut contains fiber, iron and maintains healthy tissues. Shredded coconut is used as a beauty food to help increase the softness and elasticity of skin and provides luster and shine to the hair.
Butter– Organic butter is an excellent saturated fat and a completely natural food. Don’t be fooled into thinking margarine is a healthy alterative. This is a myth and a tragic one! Butter, which is simply milk, cream and salt is perfectly safe for health, while margarine and other butter spreads are chemically processed from refined polyunsaturated oils. These liquid oils go through a process called Hydrogenation in order to make them into the “spreads”. The process of Hydrogenation is detrimental to health and food products that undergo this process should be avoided.
Start incorporating healthy fats into your diet today. You will be amazed at what these healthy fats will do in improving your looks, weight control and health.
“Body Ecology.” 5 July 2007. The 20 Health Benfits of Real Butter. http://bodyecology.com/articles/benefits_of_real_butter.php#.VPMpdSquB3s. 1 March 2015.
Cynthia L. Ogden, PhD, et al. “JAMA.” 26 February 2014. Prevalance of Childhood and Adult Obesity in the United States 2011-2012. http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1832542. 1 March 2015.
“Greenfield Fitness Systems.” n.d n.d n.d. How Sugar Makes You Fat. https://greenfieldfitnesssystems.com/article-archive/how-sugar-makes-you-fat/. 1 March 2015.
Tremblay, Sylvie. “SF Gate.” n.d n.d n.d. Health Benefits of Dehydrated Coconut. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/health-benefits-dehydrated-shredded-coconut-8278.html. 1 March 2015.