Why It’s So Essential For Your Body
If you’ve haven’t heard of the Ketogenic diet, then you might be living under a rock. And in that case, you may have heard of the Paleo diet.
Otherwise, this is just a bad diet joke and please forgive me.
The Ketogenic diet, or “Keto” for short, is definitely all the rage right now. For those of you who don’t know what the Ketogenic diet is, it is a high fat, moderate protein, and very very low carbohydrate diet. Although the Ketogenic diet isn’t for everyone, it has done something pretty remarkable in the nutrition industry – it has welcomed fat back into our diet. You heard it here first, fat is officially phat. You know – like cool – because that’s what the young kids say and ugh someone stop me with the bad diet jokes!
Okay okay all
bad jokes aside – this is a surprising new concept in the dieting world, considering fats have been one of the most feared and neglected food categories for over 50 years! This was a time when nutrition research was not prevalent, yet quickly becoming relevant after a number of people died prematurely from heart disease. Researchers pointed the finger at all fats, including healthy cholesterol and essential dietary fats, which in turn created this idea that a low-fat diet was the healthiest and most efficient diet to follow. Fast forward to the early 1980’s and 90’s, the low-fat diet was officially in full bloom. American’s couldn’t get enough of low-fat options for a number of reasons: 1. Low-fat = low(er) calories = weight loss 2. Concern for heart disease from the preconceived notion in the early twentieth century 3. Politics around low fat foods 4. Promotion of low fat from the media.
Now we’re here, after nearly fifty years of uncertainty and fear, fats are finally catching a break.
I remember the first time I logged my food in MyFitnessPal and wondered when and if I would ever eat something called “fat.” Personally, it seemed a bit redundant to eat something that I was trying to get rid of. Of course at that time, I knew very little about dietary fats and how incredibly different they were on a larger scale, but I am not afraid to admit that I was one who truly believed fats made you fat.
I followed a very low fat diet for much of my late-teens and into my freshman year of college. It wasn’t until I started heavily powerlifting and following powerlifting influencers that I realized what dietary fats really are. At the time, peanut butter was huge on Instagram, kind of like avocados at the moment, and everyone who was involved in weightlifting, recommended eating like half a jar of peanut butter a day. Well, I did and I gained twenty five pounds in a matter of eight-weeks.
Introducing fat back into your diet does not necessarily mean you are going to gain any weight or have any implications what so ever. I gained this weight for two reasons: 1. I was in a caloric surplus (eating too many calories) and 2. My body was deprived of dietary fats for so long that it immediately stored as fat cells. I avoided healthy dietary fats for so many years that my body couldn’t process the amount of fat I was eating daily, it began to resist, and eventually shut down. My liver and kidneys were under a huge amount of stress, which limited natural detoxing and reduced my energy levels tremendously. My hormone production was limited and I didn’t have a period for six months. I constantly felt anxious and began having “cluster” headaches or migraines whenever I would feel the slightest bit stressed – and being a freshman in college, away from home, this meant daily.
This was a scary, confusing and frustrating point in my life but it forced me to understand why eating a balanced diet is so important. It also encouraged me to pursue a career in nutrition, start a blog, and share my health experiences with a larger audience. So, I suppose it wasn’t all bad!
Fats can be intimidating – mostly because they are called ‘fat,’ but it’s important to remember that dietary fats do not necessarily increase body fat. Of course if you eat to much (as with everything), you will gain weight, but healthy fats like nuts, seeds, and avocados do not immediately store as fat.
Let’s put an end to fearing fats. Here’s the run down on what exactly dietary fats are, why they are so essential in your diet, and what you can do to ensure you are consuming the right types of fat.
What Are Dietary Fats?
Fat is one of three essential macronutrients that we need to consume in our diet. Along with protein and carbohydrates – fats are a fundamental nutrient that is used in regulating, maintaining, and promoting overall health and important functions in the body. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, which is nearly double the calories in both protein and carbohydrate. Although they are higher in calories, fats can also be used as a source for energy when glucose (sugar from carbohydrate) is no longer able to be used, or stored in lipid molecules to protect vital organs.
The two main types of fats include saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
We also have the man made trans-fats but lets focus on the good before we discuss the
Saturated fats are most common in the Western Diet, simply because we love burgers and butter, but that doesn’t mean you need to stay clear of them completely. Research is still inconclusive regarding whether or not saturated fats are as awful for you as they once thought. This is what we like to call the “in between” fat because it can definitely be enjoyed in moderation without compromising your health.
- Foods that are high in saturated fats include: fatty beef, lard or butter, coconut oil, cheese, and most whole milk dairy products.
Unsaturated fats can be broken down into two sub-groups known as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These are your healthy fats and are essential for the body. Both mono- and polyunsaturated fats have been shown to improve cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart disease.
Olive oil is the most commonly used monounsaturated fatty acid, and is recommended in place of saturated fats because of the chemical structure and long term effect on the body. Polyunsaturated fats include the essential fatty acids omega-3-6-9. They are considered essential in the diet because unlike most fats, our bodies cannot synthesize these fats and we must consume them through food or supplements.
- Monounsaturated Fats: olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil (and butter), avocados, and most nuts
- Polyunsaturated Fats: fatty fish (salmon, sardines), flax seeds, chia seeds, and most nuts
Dietary fats come in many shapes in sizes and can be found in a variety of foods, so it’s easy to confuse which are the healthy fats and which you should try to avoid. Although saturated fats aren’t always recommended, you can definitely maintain a healthy diet while enjoying some pizza every now and again. Unsaturated fats are the best of the best and are truly the superhero of all macros, so it’s a no brainer that you should try to include some salmon or chia seeds in your weekly routine.
There is one last fat to talk about and that is trans fats or trans fatty acids. I’m sure you’ve been recommended to stay far far away from trans fats, but have you ever wondered why? Artificial trans fats are produced by adding hydrogen to liquid oil, causing it to become solid at room temperature (think Crisco or margarine), which results in partially hydrogenated oil. This man made fat is commonly used in processed foods to increase shelf life, texture, flavor, and stability. Although they were first produced in 1901, before advanced nutritional research and lifestyle related diseases were relevant, trans fats are still being used in our food industry today.
Trans fats have been directly correlated to heart disease, reducing HDL levels (good cholesterol) and increasing LDL levels (bad cholesterol). I would highly recommend avoiding them in your diet, even if that means having something that is higher in saturated fat.
Why & When Should I Eat It?
A high(er) fat diet is becoming more and more prevalent for a number of reasons: it is essential for overall health, recent findings debunk century old myths, and a peanut butter drizzle is really pretty in photos. Kidding, but not really.
If convincing you stops there, great! If you want to learn more about the many benefits of introducing fats back into your diet, keep reading!
As I mentioned above, dietary fats help the body perform and maintain functions such as hormone production, cell membrane creation, and vitamin absorption. Fatty acids have important jobs all throughout the body, many in which rely heavily on the types of fats we are consuming through our diet. For example, our brain is very rich in fat (60%) and the main fatty acid needed for healthy brain function and structure is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This particular fat molecule is an omega-3 fatty acid, and if you recall omega-3 fatty acids must be consumed through food because our bodies cannot, or limited to, synthesize it naturally.
Fat is also a carrier of vitamins A, D, E and K, and supports nutrient absorption in your intestines. Consuming enough dietary fat is essential for ensuring the body is getting enough of these micronutrients and able to properly use them in the body.
Consuming enough healthy fats in your diet might not seem appealing, but it is incredibly essential for your health. I know that protein is fun and we all want to be strong at the moment, carbohydrates are delicious and oatmeal bowls make for the best Instagram photos – but fats are important beyond what the eye (or lens) can see.
Now that you know why you might want to add healthy fats into your diet, let’s talk about how and when you should be eating them. Again, recommendations for protein and carbs have always been pretty straight forward. Protein builds muscle and is best after a hard workout, carbohydrates give you “energy” and can be beneficial both before and after a workout – but what about fats?
As mentioned, fats are naturally higher in calories per gram than both protein and carbohydrates (9 kcal/gram compared to 4 kcal/gram), making them perfect for both before and after a workout. Dietary fats are higher in calories, giving the body more energy to perform after carbohydrate (glucose) has been first used. Fat is our bodies’ secondary source of energy and it is hypothesized to be utilized after just 20 minutes of activity. Along with pre workout energizing benefits, foods high in healthy fats also benefit the body post workout by actively helping the body recover and repair tissues.
If you’re a morning workout type of gal, I would recommend snacking on a higher fat protein bar such as an Rx Bar or a protein ball before or after your session. If you usually stick to after work hours, try to incorporate salmon into weekly dinners to ensure you’re eating plenty of those omega-3s!
If there is anything you take away from this post, it is that fats do not make you fat and a well balanced diet can include pizza with a side of salmon. We’ve been skeptics for so long that it’s hard to imagine ever coming around to, or feeling comfortable with the idea of adding higher fat foods into your diet. This is something that might take our society years or decades to figure out, but I know we’re moving in the right direction.
Believe me when I tell you, fats are a nonnegotiable when it comes to feeling your best. From hormone production to metabolizing as energy, dietary fats are essential in being the healthiest you.
Here are a few of our high fat staples that we eat on the daily!
- All Natural (no sugar added) Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, and Cashew Butter
- Chia Seeds, Flax Seeds, Hemp Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, and Sunflower Seeds
- Peanuts, Cashews, Brazil Nuts, Pecans, Pistachios and Almonds
- Cold Pressed Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Butter, and Coconut Oil
- Beef, Bison, Eggs, and Salmon
- Avocados, Dark Chocolate, Energy Balls