Should I eat a low-fat diet? Is saturated fat bad for me?
The low-fat diet has been around for many decades, and I still hear nutritionists touting it as a the main way to lose weight. But does a low-fat diet really help you lose bodyfat? Is saturated fat evil? Will low-fat yogurt fix all of my problems?
In short, the answer is…no. But that’s a bit too simple.
And don’t misunderstand me, I’m not suggesting a high-fat diet. or at least not a diet filled with fried foods and cheeseburgers. You can go overboard with anything, and I’ve seen some meals that could cause heart palpitations by sight alone. (Creamy Alfredo with bacon, ham, and butter, anyone?) But except for extreme overuse, integrating fats into your diet can be incredibly helpful, it’s really the source of the fat you need to worry about.
Fat can help make us feel more full, and keep our sugar cravings and low-blood sugar attacks at bay. Our body uses fat for various repairs and energy; and I actually lost a lot of weight when I stopped my low-fat habits. It’s been proven that there have been more heart problems and fat-gain once the low-fat diet gained popularity.
The video below describes the simple chemical make-up of the different types of fat. I’ve also written an article with similar information giving the chemical make-up of the different fats, and another article about the dangers of vegetable oil. Start there to get an idea of the science behind it. But here are my basic suggestions:
Saturated fat has gotten a bad rap, but it’s actually an important part of our diet. Our brains use it, and our cells use it for elasticity. Like any calorie, it’s also a form of energy. And it’s actually easier for our body to convert fat into energy than it is to convert protein into energy! So I purposely make sure that fat is included in most of my meals. I prefer saturated fats from vegetable sources, since the medium chain triglycerides are a quick source of energy, and most vegetable sources have other benefits (coconuts are magical). But fat is very “dense” in calories, so don’t overdo it. If you eat animal protein, you’re automatically getting saturated fat, and I wouldn’t suggest adding any more. There are various amounts of saturated fat in most oils and plant foods, the percentage just varies greatly. I’m only listing the sources that contain a large percentage.
Here are the common sources of saturated fat:
- Meat of any kind
- Dairy (cheese, milk, butter, and all other forms of dairy).
- Coconut Oil
- Palm Oil
Monounsatured fat is found mostly in plant sources. (Olives, nuts, seeds, etc.) The most common source is olive oil. Saturated fat is the most stable, but monounsaturated is the second most stable. Unsaturated molecules are “empty” and are open to becoming rancid or destroyed by heat. If unprocessed and unheated, then this fat is very healthy. In monounsatured fats there is only one molecule that is “unsaturated,” so the rest of the fat is stable, and it will only get partially destroyed. This is safe to eat raw, or at a very low heat. Most plant sources have both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, but they have a varying percentage of each. Here’s the ones that are high in monounsaturated and low in poly:
- Olive Oil
- Macadamia Nuts
Polyunsaturated fat has several unsaturated molecules. This makes it very unstable, and easily susceptible to damage. In a raw, unprocessed form, these fats can be very good for you. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are both polyunsaturated fats. But…most of these oils can be damaged just in the processing to make them, so they’re often already destroyed by the time you buy them. I never cook with polyunsaturated fats, and I use them more as a supplement (like cold-pressed chia seed oil or flax oil.) You also get these fats when you eat nuts, seeds, or other plant products. There are even trace amounts in animal fats, although it’s usually destroyed by cooking.
Here are some common polyunsaturated fat sources:
- Safflower Seed Oil
- Canola Oil
- Flax Oil
- Chia Seed Oil
- Corn Oil
- Sunflower Seeds