Good fats: Why they’re so important for weight loss and beyond
There is a fear we all have; a fear of fat! In all of our attempts to lose weight prior to Go Figure, a phobia of fat has been instilled in our minds. We think “I want to eliminate the fat on my body, so why would I eat any of it?” However, some fats do not make you fat! The over consumption of high-glycemic foods is mainly what’s making us fat in this country. Some fats are not so good for us, and can contribute to other health problems: clogging arteries, increasing fat in our blood stream (triglycerides), and causing insulin resistance in our bodies. Both trans fats, and some saturated fats which are in packaged food in the form of hydrogenated oils, can exacerbate health problems. However, not all fats are created equal; some fats can even benefit our health!
Why do we need the “good” fats?
- Certain fats help to prevent vitamin deficiencies; vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble which are important for body functions.
- With fat comes a lot of flavor and texture and keep food from being dried out and tasteless.
- Fats also help to slow the rate of digestion, which can keep the food in the stomach for longer, helping to keep you satiated longer and more satisfied with your meals.
- Fats in the form of cholesterol are important for steroid synthesis; testosterone and estrogen are both made with the use of cholesterol.
- 60% of your brain is fat. Optimal brain functioning, and decreased risk of diseases such as Alzheimer’s requires adequate good fats. They also may help in reducing depression and mood swings.
- Fat helps regulate body temperature.
- Some body fat helps protect organs from injury.
What are these “good” fats?
Starting from the initial consultation appointment, the staff at Go Figure stresses the importance of adding “healthy” fat or “good” fat to your diet as part of your overall lifestyle change. As mentioned during your initial and weekly visits, these fats can provide several benefits. Studies have shown time and time again that these fats have positive effects on a variety of functions, including: lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol and increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol, reducing blood pressure in those who are hypertensive, and insulin resistance. Our hope is that this article will help to inform you on the benefits of healthy fats, and also provide you with more food sources to add into your diet.
The types of fats we specifically emphasize are medium-chain fatty acids, and mono- and polyunsaturated fats; which includes Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. The fats that you should avoid are most saturated and all trans fats, which can increase health risks when introduced into the diet.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are those that we recommend at the initial appointment. They are derived from foods such as: olives, avocado, nuts, and seeds. When we present this information to you at the start, we recommend consuming a minimum of 250 calories (or 2 tbs.) of healthy fat in addition to your protein calories. What we typically suggest are oils derived from those foods above; extra virgin olive oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, and peanut oil, just to name a few. Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO), in particular, is associated with low rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease due to its powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. One study found that EVOO has similar anti-inflammatory effects as ibuprofen (htt10). After 3 days on the program, you can experiment with the foods listed above as your serving of healthy fats; 10 of any type olives, ¼ of a small or 1/8 of a large avocado, and 2 TBSP of unsweetened shredded coconut have all been substituted for oil with great results in weight loss. MUFAs have been evidenced to help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while regulating blood sugar in the body.
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) include Omega-3 and Omega-6, which are essential fatty acids. Essential nutrients indicate that our bodies cannot make them on our own, and need to be taken in through our diet.
Omega-3s can be classified as ALA, DHA, and EPA. The best sources for these fats are flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and fatty marine fishes (sardines, halibut, sockeye salmon, albacore tuna, anchovy.)
There is evidence that Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Coronary artery disease is the hardening of the arterial wall, and fatty plaque deposits in the blood vessels, which can restrict blood flow and can cause strokes or heart attack.
Also, new research shows that Omega-3 fatty acids that are found in fish oils (DHA and EPA) have shown to improve cognitive performance in healthy individuals. Through this study, individuals who supplemented with fish oils containing Omega-3s scored 23% higher on working memory testing, including recall abilities. These Omega-3s also aid in antidepressant effectiveness (Healy, 2012). In addition, PUFAs also help with hair and skin growth, maintaining the reproductive system, regulating metabolism, and with bone growth In yet another recent study, Omega-3 fats were shown to greatly improve insulin resistance in patients with type II Diabetes, and to lower blood pressure in hypertensive patients, even greater than MUFAs.
Omega-6 fatty acids can be found in many foods that are abundant in our lives; nuts and seeds, and the oils derived from them. Omega-6 fats help with brain function, growth and development. As Americans, we encounter plenty of these fatty acids, and most of us do not need to supplement Omega-6s in our diet.
Last, but not least, are the medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). These fats are a type of healthy saturated fat, which is shown to be metabolized more quickly in the body than other saturated fats, with proven health benefits in lowering LDL or “bad” cholesterol, while raising HDL or “good” cholesterol. One source of MCFAs is non-hydrogenated coconut oil. Another benefit to MCFAs like coconut oil is their ability to burn more calories just by being broken down; meaning that it may aid specifically in weight loss, as well.
There is strong evidence that replacing saturated and trans-fatty acids with MUFAs, PUFAs and MCFAs can help to reduce visceral fat. Visceral fat is the dangerous fat that accumulates around your organs, below the abdominal fat. This fat is particularly dangerous because it is associated with other health problems including: high cholesterol, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and increased triglycerides.
Don’t discount all fats! Please include them in your daily intake of calories and nutrients. You will feel healthier, and feel fuller and better after you eat!