After years of being regarded as the nutritional equivalent of a leper, nutritionists, MDs, and PhDs are joining hands and making nice about fat. Finally we all agree fat does NOT make you fat.
Not eating fat can actually cause you to gain, or keep that weight you're desperately trying to shed.
Now if you're of the paleo/primal/Weston A. Price persuasion this is probably old news, but there are still many people out there dousing their skillets in non-stick cooking spray. I spent years (11 to be exact) desperately avoiding fat consumption. A few of my favorite dietary staples included:
- I Can't Believe It's Not Butter (I would actually open the bottle and POUR it on things. Gah!)
- Boneless, skinless chicken breast
- Sugar-free gum
- Egg whites
A NOTE ON THE LOW-FAT DIET:
The truth is, low-fat diets work. They work really, really well. Why else would they be the gold standard for bodybuilders since forever? You don’t need to pay a nutritionist or personal trainer hundreds of dollars to find out how to look like the girl on the cover of Fitness magazine, I’ll tell you how, right now, for free: eat nothing but lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and plain brown rice or half a sweet potato if you're feeling really really crazy.
Now, I’m not going to say this is “bad” – protein, vegetables, and carbs are all very good for you. From a health perspective, the main problem with this plan is that there’s very little fat (and I’ll get to why that’s an issue in a minute). From a human being perspective, the main problem is that this plan is bland, boring, and not super sustainable. How the heck someone eats like this for an extended period of time, without losing their mind and social life, is beyond me. Eating a variety of different foods is one of the greatest joys in life, or at least I think so.
HOW DOES FAT MAKE YOU SKINNY?
If you go too low fat for too long you will mess up your hormones. We need to eat fat to have healthy hormones. "Our sex and stress hormones are built on a backbone of cholesterol," says Dr. Emily Longwill, of Roots Natural Medicine in Ventura, CA. Sex hormones like estrogen and stress hormones like cortisol majorly influence whether you store or burn body fat. If you're not eating dietary fat, your body can't manufacture these hormones properly, which can ultimately impact your ability to burn fat (among a lot of other things).
On top of that, your metabolism is controlled by your thyroid hormone. All our hormones work together, so if one, or a group of them, isn't being made properly this can initiate a waterfall effect, influencing all the other hormones - like your thyroid.
The key to losing weight isn't just counting calories, or carbs, it's making sure your hormones are happy and in balance.
This is the most important part of the puzzle. If your hormones are out of whack you'll never be able to loose weight.
THE SKINNY FATS
Coconut oil is made up of mostly medium-chain fatty acids. Unlike long-chain fatty acids, like those found in other types of fat (olive oil, avocados, nuts & seeds, etc.) medium-chain fatty acids are almost never stored as fat — they go directly into the bloodstream and are burned for fuel, similar to carbohydrates. Because this kind of fat is quickly converted to energy, it can actually speed up your metabolism!
This is why you may have heard some fitness people (and Gwyneth) talk about MCT oil. Although coconut oil is mostly medium chain fatty acids, it does contain some contain some long-chain fatty acids (which are more easily stored as fat). MCT oil is pure, medium-chain triglycerides (or fatty acids). A shot of this in your smoothie is like a shot of metabolism-boosting energy.
Isn't butter supposed to be the fattiest of all fatty fat-making foods? Get excited. It's not. It's actually one of the best fats you can eat. Butter contains butyric acid, a short-chain fatty acid which, like medium-chain fatty acids, is also not easily stored as fat and burned quickly for energy. Butyric acid has been shown to boost metabolism and improve insulin sensitivity.
Butyrate is also made in our guts by bacteria fermenting undigested carbohydrate. It's been clinically shown to help strengthen the lining of our guts - this is important because if you have a weak or "leaky" gut you can develop foods allergies, which leads to inflammation, which is a stress on the body, which leads to weight gain and weight retention.
Due to the potent effect butyrate has on a number of bodily processes, it may be a fundamental controller of metabolism, stress resistance and the immune system in mammals.
You can help your gut bacteria out and get some extra butyrate in by eating butter!
THE OTHER WONDERS OF FAT
Not only do we need fat for healthy hormones, we need fat to absorb the vitamins in our food. Vitamins A, D, E & K are all fat-soluble. If there’s no fat present when we consume them, we won’t absorb them. So next time you pay $9 for a green juice, make sure you’re getting some fat in too, or all those nutrients will go right down your drain.
There’s a reason why middle school and acne seem to go hand in hand – your hormones are going crazy and we need healthy, stable hormones for clear, beautiful skin. But we also need vitamins, especially A & E – which are plentiful in fatty foods like butter and avocados. And fat also helps keep wrinkles at bay. Think about dry skin – it can’t stretch or move. It cracks and ultimately wrinkles. But oily skin stays plump, hydrated, and wrinkle-free.
Fat helps control our blood sugar in two ways: by slowing nutrient absorption, meaning we stay fuller, longer. And it tastes AWESOME. Meaning it satisfies us so we don’t get cravings two hours after eating. Having stable blood sugar is critical for weight loss. When your blood sugar spikes your body has no choice but to quickly store that sugar as fat. But when it rises steadily, your body can actually put that energy to use. When your blood sugar drops suddenly your body releases cortisol and excessive amounts of cortisol can also cause you to store fat. So you always want to keep your blood sugar stable and one of the best ways to do this is to make sure you have fat at every meal.
Last but CERTAINLY not least, we need fat (cholesterol specifically) to make our sex hormones. These control your sex drive. This is why many people who are put on statin drugs, which artificially lower cholesterol, report their will to get it on taking a nose dive, if not vanishing altogether. So if you've been diligentally avoiding fat and wondering why you have no interest in sex this could be an easy (and delicious) fix.
BUT BEFORE YOU START SHOVELING DOWN SPOONFULS OF COCONUT OIL...
This doesn't mean you should eat a whole stick of butter on a daily basis. Not that this would be bad for you – it would be absolutely fine and some people actually do this. I’ve come close on a couple of occasions. But any food eaten to excess is not good for the body - including vegetables and water.If you are trying to lose weight (which is probably why you’re reading this post) and currently going out of your way to avoid eating fat at all costs - especially if you're experiencing hormonal issues like PCOS or low libido, or unstable blood sugar - you need to take those chicken cutlets off your plate and put them in your bra (where they'd actually be useful).
SO HOW MUCH FAT SHOULD I EAT?
If you’re eating something that’s fat-free, like fruit or vegetables add a little fat. Like, a tablespoon of grass-fed butter to your broccoli or a small scoop of almond butter (not half the jar) with your apple. If you’re eating a lean meat or fish like grilled chicken or tilapia, cook it with olive oil or coconut oil, instead of spray-on crap. Even though those non stick cooking sprays work wonders, if there’s no calories and no fat there’s got to be something in their place and that something is chemicals that enter into our body and further derange our metabolisms and interfere with our body’s natural processes.
If you’re eating steak on the other hand, probably no need to slather with butter (unless you want to, then by all means).
A good rule of thumb is go by your thumb. At every meal have a thumb-sized serving of fat, if it’s not already a large part of the protein you’re eating.
THE BEST FATS FOR GETTING SKINNY
- Pastured egg yolks
- Wild caviar
- Grass-fed liver
- Grass-fed butter
- Wild-caught sardines
- Cold-pressed coconut oil
- MCT oil
Note: If you've been riding the non-stick cooking spray train for a while, you might not be able to crack open the coconuts just yet. The body needs bile to digest fat, and if you haven't been eating fat in a while chances are your bile production isn't up to par and you'll have a hard time digesting and utilizing all these good fats.