Do fats make you fat?

Green smoothie2

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, fat was The Enemy, something to be absolutely avoided. I am sure many of you will remember the age of low-fat everything, and how ‘healthy’ we felt eating those foods! After all, fat makes you fat, right?

Wrong! If there is one dietary myth I think it is important for people to know, it is that we NEED a good amount of healthy fats in our diets. And while it is true that some types of fat are better avoided, it is also true that many of us are not eating enough healthy fats. I know from my own experience that I was not eating enough fats a few years ago. As a ‘muffin vegetarian’, I ate very little fatty foods, and I actually thought this was a good thing – yet I was constantly grazing between meals. Adding more healthy fats to my diet, mostly in the form of nuts, seeds, avocado, eggs and coconut products drastically changed how full I feel after a meal.

Fats have more calories per gram than carbohydrates and proteins, but as I have written before, it is much more important to look at nutrients than calories, and fats are absolutely essential for the following processes:

♦ Building blocks of hormones

♦ Anti-inflammatory effect, meaning healthy fats can decrease the risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases

♦ Fats make the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K possible

♦ Fats are essential for proper growth and development, especially considering that 60% of our brains are made of fat

♦ Fats slow down digestion, helping us feel full for longer and can also help reduce sugar cravings

Here are some easy ways to up the healthy fat quota of your meals:

Add raw, unsalted nuts like almonds and walnuts to your breakfast cereal, porridge or smoothie, sprinkle them over salads or soups or just snack on a handful.

Add raw, unsalted seeds to your breakfast cereal, porridge or smoothie, sprinkle them over salads or soups or just snack on a handful. Please note that linseeds/flaxseeds must always be ground in order for the body to digest them properly.

Add avocados to a salad or on top of any grain-based meal. Make guacamole or spread on toast or crackers for breakfast or a light dinner. Avocados have a unique combination of healthy fats and despite what a lot of women fear, they do not make you fat! They are actually particularly beneficial for balancing hormones in women.

Olives and olive oil (always extra virgin and cold pressed) can be poured over or added to any meal.

Coconut products such as coconut oil, milk or flakes are also a great source of a mid-chain fatty acids which are found in few other foods. Like nuts and seeds, flakes can be added to to your breakfast cereal, porridge or smoothie and coconut milk or cream can be used to make soups or curries or again, added to smoothies. I use coconut oil for cooking as it has a high smoke point (it can be heated without damaging the oil).

Good news for butter lovers – butter is now being considered a healthy fat when it is from grass-fed cows and eaten in moderation. I don’t think anyone needs ideas on how to use butter!

Fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as wild Alaskan salmon (sockeye), herring, sardines and black cod are good to eat about 3 times per week. If you prefer not to eat fish or live somewhere where it is not available, it is essential to take an omega 3 supplement. I take this myself since I don’t like the taste of fish, even though I eat plenty of plant-based sources of omega 3. Plant-based sources of omega 3 like walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds are very healthy, but are a less efficient source as a conversion process still needs to take place in the body.

Eggs are a great source of healthy cholesterol which is essential for the body. Expert opinion on eggs have now been reviewed and it is generally agreed that they do not cause cholesterol in healthy people. Make sure the eggs you eat are organic and free range.

Meat can also be a healthy fat but again, make sure the animal ate its natural diet of grass rather than grains. This makes a dramatic difference in the ratio of healthy fats in the meat (the famous Omega 3 to Omega 6 ratio).

Fats to avoid entirely:

Trans fats – theses are mostly man-made oils that are extremely toxic to the body, leading to heart disease, stroke and cancer. They are found in margarine, processed foods, candy, chips, crackers, flaky pastries, some peanut butters. If the label lists partially- hydrogenated oils, do your body a favor and absolutely avoid this food. The term vegetable oil on an ingredient list usually also means the product contains trans fats and is best avoided. Actually a note on margarine: Margarine and non-butter spreads are chemical, man-made foods which contains harmful fats. Use real butter instead.

Fried foods – make sure these are only a very occasional treat as fried food often contain trans fats.

Low fat foods – and yes, this includes skim milk and low-fat yoghurt. When fat is removed from foods, they are no longer the natural, whole food, and the body in all its wisdom recognizes there is something missing. This can manifest as cravings for sugar, for example. Also, low-fat foods often have sugar added to replace the taste lost by removing the fat.

So there you have it – the skinny on fats! I hope this post helped you see fats a little differently. I urge you to try adding some healthy fats to your meals to notice how full you feel in the hours after the meal. Of course, like every nutrient, the amount needed is very variable, so it is important to experiment to find the right amount for you. Above all, quality is crucial – always buy the best you can afford – cold-pressed, virgin oils and grass fed, organic animals products.

Read more about making your kitchen nut and seed friendly

Read more about making green smoothies that can be topped with healthy fats


Sources: 1, 2, 3 
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  • Andrea on Jul 26, 2013 Reply

    Great summary, Hiba! Thanks!

  • Anonymous on Jul 24, 2013 Reply

    Thank you Hiba at least we can back and eat butter !!!!!!!!

  • Hiba on Apr 30, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your comment Faris! Absolutely eat those healthy fats without guilt!

  • Faris on Apr 30, 2013 Reply

    Eases the guilt trip that comes from eating (good) fats! I didn’t know good fats were so beneficial to the body.

    There’s been so much conflicting information on this topic. Thank you for simplifying and setting the record straight!

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