Healthy Fat

Don't Fear Fat

Fat gets demonized in our culture. Both on our bodies and fat that we eat. And there is the common misconception that eating fat will make our bodies fat. I am here to tell you that neither dietary fat or body fat should be put in a blanket category as “bad”. I would also like to put out that dietary fat does not make our bodies more fat!

Fat doesn’t make us fat

The real scientific name for dietary fat is lipid (1). The real scientific name for body fat is adipose tissue (2). Lipid does NOT equal adipose tissue. End of story. So we can all get the eating fat makes us fat narrative out of our heads. In fact, eating fat can do just the opposite, if you read on I will tell you why.

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The thing, or hormone rather (since hormones control everything), that causes our bodies to store fat is insulin (5). And there is only one macronutrient that does not cause ANY insulin response when eaten - fat (3). So therefore fat is not what is making us fat. Insulin is released in response to glucose (blood sugar) (4). Carbohydrates cause the largest insulin response, and protein causes a small insulin response but as I said, fat causes none. This is not to say you need to avoid carbohydrates and protein altogether, it is merely to show that fats need not be limited and feared especially for people who are aiming for weight loss or want to avoid weight gain. In fact, this clinical study showed that by pairing a potato (mostly carbohydrate) with butter (fat), it actually lowered the postprandial insulin response of subjects (6).

Eating Fat helps our bodies function optimally

Not only is fat not to blame for if there is extra fat tissue (adipose tissue) stored on our bodies, but it actually helps our bodies function optimally:

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First of all, half of the vitamins we eat are water soluble (the B and C vitamins) and half are fat soluble (vitamins A, D, E and K) (7). So if we aren’t eating adequate dietary fats, our bodies can be nutrient deficient, even if the rest of our diet is very nutrient dense. Because our bodies won’t be able to properly absorb , store and use these fat soluble vitamins from all the healthy foods we are eating if we don’t eat enough fat too. The beautiful thing about eating fats from nature is that you get the fat soluble vitamins WITH the fat so you don’t need to worry about anything. For example: grass-fed dairy is a great source of vitamin D (but when we remove the fat and make it fat-FREE dairy, we then have to fortify it with extra vitamin D, seems a little counterintuitive, right?). Another example is pasture-raised egg yolks are rich in all of the fat soluble vitamins (A, D , E and K) and they are also full of essential fatty acids to help your body absorb them. So why did we start eating egg whites again? A third and final example (there are many more but I want to move onto other dietary fat benefits) is almonds and almond products (butter/flour etc.) These are rich in vitamin E and guess what, they are fatty to help our bodies absorb the vitamin E! Yay vitamins and yay fats!

Fats are crucial for brain clarity, cognitive function, mood boosting and to prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, ADHD, epilepsy and more. Omega 3 DHA fats are a crucial part of a developing baby’s brain (11) but their importance does not stop at childbirth. They are crucial for the rest of life and by giving the brain fuel, reducing inflammation in the body and the brain and enhancing something called “brain derived neurotropic factor” or BDNF (12). BDNF is a protein that promotes the survival of neurons (or nerve cells) to keep our brain healthy (13) (so we want more of it and thus want omega 3 fats). Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) have even been shown to help treat depression, this meta-analysis (analysis of 40 relevant studies) shows these beneficial effects (14). However, it’s not just omega 3s that have beneficial brain effects. Coconut oil can help prevent memory loss and has even been shown to improve Alzheimer’s symptoms (15). Egg yolks are rich in choline, a B vitamin, which among other things, improves cognitive function (16). Olive oil improves learning and memory (17) and avocados are rich in vitamin A & K (which help prevent blood clots and therefore strokes) and also can boost memory and cognitive function (18).

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Fats are crucial for physical and mental satiation. Just picture eating a piece of plain toast. You would probably be hungry shortly after. Now picture eating an avocado toast, or even better, an avocado toast with an egg (whole egg not egg white). Now you’d DEFINITELY be full for at least a few hours. So what’s the difference? Fat. Fat slows our digestion so other nutrients release more slowly into our bloodstream. This is especially important when paired with carbs, because it prevents a large insulin spike (AKA signaling body to store glucose as adipose tissue) and crash subsequently after (AKA cravings & jitters central, ever been “hangry”?… yeah, fats will help with that.) Fat is actually negatively correlated to post-prandial (which means after eating) insulin response (8). This means that the more fat you eat the less your insulin rises so fat has a stabilizing effect on your blood sugar! Many studies have also shown that dietary fat can increase Peptide YY (PYY, a satiation hormone), increase Cholecystokinin (CKK, another satiation hormone) and decrease ghrelin (a hunger hormone) (9, 10).

What kind of fat should I eat?

Simple answer is all types of fats that have not been chemically altered by man. For instance cold pressed olive oil or avocado oil has not been chemically altered by man. It has merely been squeezed out of a fruit without changing the chemical makeup. Canola oil, however, actually goes through an industrial extraction process using hexanes that changes the chemical makeup of the oil (19, 20). So when you are thinking about what fats to include in your diet, think of if you know how they were made. Avocado - safe, grass-fed butter - safe, egg yolk - safe, coconut milk - safe. However, removing fats from these items can alter the nutritional value of these naturally nutritious foods. Choosing fat-free versions of these foods is essentially the same as choosing fats that have been chemically altered. I will do a separate post on types of fats to avoid but for now, we can drop the fat fear and enjoy our fatty food from nature!

references

1) lipid. (n.d.) Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition. (2003). Retrieved March 14 2019 from https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/lipid

2) https://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/fat

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=American+Journal+of+Clinical+Nutrition%22%3B+An+Insulin+Index+of+Foods%3B+Susanne+Holt+et+al%3B+1997

4) https://medlineplus.gov/ency/imagepages/8812.htm

5) https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-shows-how-insulin-stimulates-fat-cells-take-glucose

6) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7882816

7) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/

8) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=American+Journal+of+Clinical+Nutrition%22%3B+An+Insulin+Index+of+Foods%3B+Susanne+Holt+et+al%3B+1997

9) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23688821

10) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30550892

11) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29316994

12) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30867119

13) https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/gene/BDNF

14) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013121/

15) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3437664/

16) https://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/egg-nutrition

17) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21955812

18) https://draxe.com/15-brain-foods-to-boost-focus-and-memory/

19) https://thecoconutmama.com/how-canola-oil-is-made/

20) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/04/13/ask-the-expert-concerns-about-canola-oil/

Balanced Breakfast Tips

One of the most common things I see on food diaries is missing breakfast or a nutrient deficient breakfast. For reference, I have all my incoming clients do a food diary before we begin working together. They don’t record calories or exact measurements, it’s just to see their general eating habits. This trend is not unique for my clients, only 47% of US adults eat breakfast daily (1) so that means more than half skip breakfast pretty regularly. I am not saying you have to eat the second you wake up. However, there is considerable research that shows starting your day with a balanced breakfast (see my take on this below) can jumpstart your metabolism, help muscle building over time, balance your blood sugar, fight nagging cravings later in the day, help with natural satiation and portion control and give your body the dose of nutrients it needs to start the day (2,3,4). The clinical research points positively towards breakfast as well as my own anecdotal experiences (from myself and my clients). Even if you practice intermittent fasting, which is a longer topic for another day, the first meal of the day should be balanced. So here are my tips on how to do so:

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Tip #1 PFFP:

Breakfast should include as many of the PFFP components as possible. If you can’t include all four, that’s fine, 3/4 is still great and even 2/4 is doing pretty darn good. PFFP stands for Protein, Fat, Fiber, and Phytonutrients. This combination will keep you full, satiated, energized and with your metabolism on fire. Here are some ideas of foods that contain each component:

  • Protein: comes from meat, seafood, eggs, greek yogurt/cottage cheese, and there is some in nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), legumes, and some supplements (my favorites are Nuzest pea protein “PRESS15” saves you $$ and Further Food collagen “START10” saves you $$)

  • Fat: comes from whatever oil you cook with, ghee, butter, dairy, avocado, coconut/oil, nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), and from meat and seafood (will depend on what meat you buy but there will usually be at least a little fat)

  • Fiber: comes from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and their derivatives (butters, flours), legumes and whole grains

  • Phytonutrients: comes from fruits and vegetables, specifically, these are the compounds that give fruits and vegetables their colors, so eat the rainbow!

As I said, you don’t need all four PFFP components at every meal, but the more the better. The thing you want to avoid is having a meal or a snack comprised of “naked carbs”. Some examples of naked carbs would be (a piece of fruit, a bagel, some juice, cereal). Ways to “dress up” those carbs so they have more PFFP components and are not naked would be a piece of fruit with some nut butter or greek yogurt, a bagel with smoked salmon or an egg, a smoothie that includes protein and healthy fats (instead of a juice), and greek yogurt or cottage cheese with a granola that includes lots of nuts and seeds instead of cereal.

Some more EASY no fuss PFFP breakfast ideas:

  • Eggs of any kind and avocado (I love having this on sweet potato toast) you can even add bacon if you like

  • Full fat greek yogurt with some fruit and nuts

  • Chia pudding & berries

  • Smoothie with protein & healthy fats

Tip #2 You don’t have to be traditional:

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The above examples all include traditional “breakfast fare”. However, breakfast does not have to include “traditional breakfast food”. It is more important to eat foods you like and will crave, are realistic and accessible to you at breakfast time. And of course, strive for as many components of PFFP as you can.

I often eat regular “meals” for breakfast if that’s what I wake up craving and I have leftovers in the fridge anyways. For instance, I love a good “breakfast salad” like the one pictured to the right. Nothing like starting your day with greens. Or sometimes I’ll have something from dinner the night before such as salmon and roasted veggies (hello PFFP).

Breakfast foods can feel constraining to people when they don’t know what’s healthy and convenient in the breakfast category, the default can be to just grab coffee and skip breakfast, or grab a packaged protein bar and be on your way. But when we think about breakfast in narrow terms we can get pigeon-holed into the naked carb items above (cereal, bagel etc.) By expanding our definition of what’s “allowed” at breakfast, the possibilities are endless!

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Tip #3 Make it easy on yourself:

For most people, mornings can be the busiest time of day. Hence the tendency to skip breakfast. Plan ahead and plan realistically. If you love a cozy bowl of oats, make a batch of overnight oats on the weekend that’ll be read for the week. If you love omelettes and bacon, make egg muffins with your favorite bacon chunks in it ahead of time. If you love pancakes or waffles, make and freeze a big batch so they can easily be reheated during the week. If you’re a smoothie and go type, put your smoothie ingredients in individual bags so all you have to do is dump them in the blender when morning arrives. You can check out more of my “meal-preppable” breakfast recipe ideas here.

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tip # 4 look forward to your breakfast!:

Waking up is hard enough, no matter how much sleep you got the night before. So why not have something to look forward to in the morning. You should always start your day with something delicious you want to eat. Not only will this set the tone for the day in a positive way, but it will make you more likely to eat breakfast. Instead of preparing foods you feel like you should eat for breakfast, start your day with foods you get to eat for breakfast!

References:

1) https://www.thedailymeal.com/news/healthy-eating/more-half-americans-skip-breakfast-least-once-week-study-says/081815

2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30373105

3) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30527257

4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28701389