Shift 2: Enjoy Healthy Fats
While some fats (namely trans fats) are bad news, virtually all the naturally occurring fats in whole foods are good for you. A lot of folks don’t realize that, though, so they’ve cut most fats out of their diets. They’ve used refined carbohydrates to fill the void and have experienced cravings, mood swings, chronic disease and weight gain as a result.
It’s now widely understood that quick-digesting carbohydrates (like those found in sugar, white bread, white rice and white pasta), not fats, are primarily to blame for obesity, heart-disease, type 2 diabetes and many of the other major health woes we face as a nation.
“I think that because there is such a fat phobia in America, many people are actually deficient in healthy fats,” says Maggie Ward, MS, RD, LDN, nutrition director at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Mass.
The solution, says Ward, is to get the majority of your fats from whole foods. Snack on fat-rich nuts and seeds; slice avocado onto salads and sandwiches; enjoy clean, safe fish.
Whole-food sources of fats not only fill you up, so you’re less likely to crave that morning bagel or afternoon cookie, but they also help your body get the essential fatty acids it can’t make on its own.
Saturated fats from whole-food sources, like grass-fed meats, eggs, poultry and coconut, when enjoyed as part of a nutritious, high-fiber, plant-rich diet, are also good for you. “Saturated fat makes up part of our cell membranes, is needed for hormone synthesis and serves as a great fuel source,” says Ward. “And like all fats, saturated fat really adds satiety to the diet and balances blood sugars.” A 2010 meta-analysis of 21 studies involving nearly 350,000 people found no significant link between saturated fat in the diet and increased risk of heart disease. Those results, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, represent a total turnaround from advice given just a few short years ago. (Learn more at “Heart News.”)
Here’s what good fats can do for you:
Control cravings. Adding a little fat to each meal or snack can help you stay full longer, and minimize the carb cravings often caused by spikes and dives in blood sugar. “Fat is what adds satiety to a meal,” says Ward. “If you have a little avocado, butter or coconut, that meal is going to stick with you a lot longer.”
Maintaining a good balance of dietary fats in the body also supports healthy metabolism, which is essential to weight loss. Try a handful of nuts in your smoothie, a dollop of full-fat yogurt on berries, or a slice of cheese with an apple.
Douse inflammation. Inflammation is at the root of a host of chronic ills, from heart disease to diabetes to certain cancers. Ironically, fat — long blamed as a contributing factor in such maladies — may actually turn out to be a significant factor in resolving them. Many experts agree that an imbalance in our fat intake (too many omega-6s from meats and vegetable oils like soybean, corn and safflower oils, and too few omega-3s) are fueling an epidemic of inflammatory diseases. “We evolved on a diet that was close to 1 to 1 (omega-6 to omega-3), and the majority of Americans are now eating closer to 20 to 1 or even 30 to 1,” says Reardon.
Regain balance by cutting the amount of vegetable oils in your diet and upping your intake of omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon, anchovies and sardines, plus fish oils and plant sources such as walnuts and flaxseeds. If you eat meat, give preference to grass-fed and organic options, which are much higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Build your brain. Omega-3 fatty acids — DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid), in particular– make up 20 percent of the brain’s gray matter, says Reardon. Inside the brain, our cell membranes are composed of fats that facilitate snappy cellular communication — which is why fatty-acid deficiencies are a common factor in depression, mood swings and compromised brain function.