Dietary fat is making a comeback in the health and nutrition world. And science has confirmed why fat should have never been demonized in the first place.
In fact, this article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides evidence that the sugar industry paid researchers to perform studies to downplay the link between sugar consumption and heart disease. In addition, they made us believe fat was the enemy.
Health Benefits of Fat
Our bodies can’t make fat. Thus, it must come from our food. And fat is an essential component to the health of every cell in your body as well as many biological processes.
Let’s take a closer look at the key roles of fat…
- Each cell membrane is made of a layer of fat. Thus, healthy fat consumption promotes optimal cell membrane function, which includes obtaining nutrients, eliminating toxins, and communication.
- Fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E, and K, require the presence of fat for absorption. Thus, if you’re eating a salad without a healthy source of fat, you’re not benefiting from all the vitamin A and K in those leafy greens.
- Your brain consists of mostly fat. Therefore, it requires a steady stream of fat particles for optimal performance as well as development. This means that low-fat diets can actually negatively impact your mood, behavior, and memory among other cognitive functions.
- Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are made with fat. Thus, low-fat diets can lead to infertility as well as other hormonal imbalances. These imbalances often cause dysfunction, which ultimately leads to disease if left untreated.
- Fat provides a layer of protection for your organs as well as insulation for your nerve cells.
- Your metabolism and body temperature are regulated by fat.
- In the absence of carbohydrates, fat can be used as a source of fuel to produce energy.
Why Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat
Now that we’ve established that fat is an essential component of a well-balanced diet, it’s also important to understand that eating fat won’t make you fat. Despite what we’ve been led to believe for so many years.
For example, the fat in an avocado doesn’t instantly accumulate in your fat cells. Just like eating protein doesn’t automatically give you big muscles.
Research has shown that eating fat is highly satiating. It also slows down the digestive process and triggers appetite-suppressing hormones. Thus, you’re more likely to stop eating when your body has what it needs. And you’re less likely to snack in between meals.
However, unhealthy fats found in heavily processed foods don’t offer the same benefits. Especially because they’re typically combined with refined carbohydrates.
This explains why it’s easy to overeat chips, but the chances of you overindulging on raw nuts are slim.
It also leads to the next key point, which is all calories are not created equal.
Let’s take a closer look at the nutrition facts of non-fat yogurt and avocado to further illustrate this point.
One serving of non-fat yogurt typically offers the following:
- 0 grams of fat
- 10 grams of sugar
- 5 grams of protein
- 90 calories
- Synthetic sources of vitamin A & D
- Added flavors, colors, and preservatives
And if you’re eating this yogurt as a snack, most likely it’s not very filling. You’ll probably eat two servings or grab something else with it or soon after.
On the other hand, a half of an avocado contains:
- 14 grams of fat
- Less than 1 gram of sugar
- 2 grams of protein
- 160 calories
- 6.5 grams of fiber
- Natural vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients
Based on these facts, an avocado will always be the healthier choice. First, it is much more filling than a cup of non-fat yogurt. Thus, you’ll probably eat less in the long run. And, the extra nutrients provide your body with much more than energy.
These nutrients are necessary for proper hormone function, digestive health, gene expression, brain health, immune function, and a healthy gut microbiome among other things. And these factors all impact your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat.
Further, research has shown that those following a low-carb, high-fat diet burn more calories daily than those eating a high-carb, low-fat diet.
Therefore, if you’re avoiding fat in an effort to eat fewer calories and lose weight, you might want to rethink your strategy.
In addition to the above, eating less fat often means consuming more carbs.
For instance, if you opt for non-fat yogurt as opposed to an avocado, you may be consuming fewer calories, but your refined sugar intake is much higher.
And sugar releases insulin, which ushers glucose into your cells and stores any excess as fat. Therefore, an overconsumption of sugar and other refined carbs is one of the key contributing factors to gaining fat.
Sources of Healthy Fats
It’s important to understand not all fats are created equal. It’s always best to stick to whole food sources of fat, such as:
- Avocado and avocado oil
- Olives and olive oil
- Raw or sprouted nuts and seeds
- Coconut and coconut oil
- Whole eggs
- Grass-fed butter and ghee
Unhealthy fats to be avoided include:
- Heavily processed vegetable oils (canola, corn, and soy)
- Trans fat (hydrogenated oils)
For maximum health and fat burning benefits, it’s also recommended to balance your healthy fats with other whole foods (as opposed to processed foods). These include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and healthy animal proteins.
Dietary fat is an essential nutrient to achieve and maintain optimal health. And despite popular belief, eating egg yolks and smothering your sweet potato with butter will not spontaneously put fat on your body.
However, not all fats are created equal. Therefore, stick to fats from whole foods as opposed to heavily processed and refined fats and oils.
Ebbeling, C. B., et al. (2012). Effects of Dietary Composition During Weight Loss Maintenance: A Controlled Feeding Study. JAMA : The Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(24), 2627–2634. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607
Hall, K., et al. (2015). Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity. Cell Metabolism,22(3), 427-436. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.07.021
Hyman, M. (2016). Eat fat, get thin: why the fat we eat is the key to sustained weight loss and vibrant health. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Montmayeur, J., & Coutre, J. L. (2010). Fat detection taste, texture, and post ingestive effects. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.
Sherman, H., et al. (2012). Timed high-fat diet resets circadian metabolism and prevents obesity. The FASEB Journal,26(8), 3493-3502. doi:10.1096/fj.12-208868