If you came of age in the 70s or 80s, or did any kind of dieting during that time, you almost certainly have spent a lot of time believing that fat makes you fat… and that to lose weight, or be healthy, you should have a low fat diet. I’m hoping that by now you know that simply isn’t true. Say it with me friends, fat does not make you fat (too many carbs do, but that’s a discussion for another day). Fat is your friend. Fat is important for hormone production, nerve conduction and brain health, mood stability, energy production, and skin, hair and nail health. Literally every cell in your body is surrounded by a layer of fat.
There are lot of different ways that fats are discussed – saturated vs unsaturated, cis vs trans, the Omegas… Here is some of the breakdown.
- Saturated vs. unsaturated. This has to do with the bonds between the carbon molecules. Saturated – all single bonds (therefor carrying as many hydrogens as it possibly can), unsaturated – at least one double bond (therefor fewer hydrogens). In general saturated fats are solid at room temperature and unsaturated ones are liquid. For the longest time we were told that saturated fats weren’t healthy but recent systematic reviews have found little evidence of association between saturated fat intake and heart disease. Saturated fats are found it meats, fish, dairy products, coconut oil, palm oil and nuts. Unsaturated fats are in olive oil, avocado, vegetable oils, fish and nuts. Notice that fish and nuts have both saturated and unsaturated fats – because foods are tricky like that.
- Hydrogenated or trans fats. These are oils that have been altered to have only single bonds – making them solid at room temperature and giving them longer shelf lives – think margarine or shortening. No ifs, and or buts, these are unhealthy. Your body doesn’t recognize them and has no idea what to do with them. These have been strongly associated with heart disease.
- Omega 3 fats. This is a category of polyunsaturated fatty acids (lots of double bonds). There are three Omega 3 fats – EPA and DHA, found mostly in fish (wild not farmed, because of their different diets) and ALA (high in flax and chia seeds). These fats are: anti-inflammatory, important for brain, nerve, eye development, associated with lower blood pressure and better cholesterol management (especially triglycerides), used in the treatment of depression, anxiety, ADHD and more…
- Omega 6 fats. These are found in sunflower, soy, safflower, canola and corn cooking oils, as well as evening primrose and borage oil. They have also been associated with reducing inflammation, heart disease and allergies. The ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 should be 3:1-1:1. However, the modern Canadian diet is closer to 15:1.
- Omega 9 fats. These fats, unlike Omega 3s and 6s, are not considered essential. This means that our bodies can make them from other nutrients. However, therapeutically they can be important for heart health, cholesterol management and general yumminess. Omega 9s are found in olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocados.
What else does fat do?
Fat makes you feel full. Have you ever made a protein shake for breakfast – almond milk, fruit, protein powder – and then found yourself famished at 10 o’clock? Try adding a 1/4 avocado, tablespoon of a nut butter, ground flax seeds, tahini and/ or coconut oil. The fat will slow down how quickly the shake (or any other meal) is emptied from your stomach. The longer it takes, the longer you feel full.
Fat makes things taste yummy. I think that this one is pretty self explanatory.
How much? I think that a healthy diet is around 30% fat. And from a health perspective, I’d rather people err on the side of a little too much rather than too little.
A few random fat facts
- Some research suggests people who consume full-fat dairy weigh less and are less likely to develop diabetes than people who consume low-fat dairy. (Bye bye skim milk and 0% yogurt)
- The ketogenic diet is a very high fat, very low carbohydrate diet. It is used by people with seizure disorders, cancer, Parkinson’s, ALS, diabetes and more.
- Coconut oil or MCT (medium chain triglycerides) oil raises your metabolic rate. This can help with weight loss, energy and mood.
Chocolate Avocado Pudding
- 3 large avocado, soft
- 1/4 cup cacao powder (or cocoa powder – two letters off, but different, either will work, though)
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 4 Tbsp coconut milk (or the cream from the top of the can if you are feeling particularly decadent)
- 4 Tbsp honey
Combine all ingredients. Chill before serving. So, so good. I’ve tried a few different avocado puddings and this recipe is by far my favourite.