Everything you need to know about the dangers of consuming a diet that’s high in fat can be summarized in one sentence.
The health scare surrounding saturated fat and cholesterol was overblown.
That was Walter Willett’s conclusion after reviewing 21 studies on high-fat diets. While Willet’s name doesn’t jump off the page, he is the chairman of the department of nutrition at Harvard University. And his powerful statement came after Harvard published a study that showed there is no evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with coronary heart disease, stroke, or cardiovascular disease.
This was a defining moment in a 30-year battle to determine if eating fat makes us fat. The confusion began in the 1980s when obesity rates began to climb. The low-fat craze took over, and the next thing you knew, we all became fatter. But that was just beginning. People assumed that despite all the clever marketing, maybe we were all still eating too much fat.
Only nothing could be farther from the truth. Consider this:
- In the last 30 years the number of overweight people increased by 30 percent.
- During the same time period, the amount of fat consumed decreased by 11 percent.
While this doesn’t mean direct causation, it’s solid evidence that the consumption of fat wasn’t the problem. What people didn’t realize is that not only is fat not bad, it’s actually an incredibly potent weight loss tool and essential for your health.
So How Much Fat Do I Need?
Research now indicates that as much as 20 to 35 percent of your calories should come from fats.
Not only do the fat-filled meals keep you full, they also burn calories. Researchers from Georgia Southern University found that eating a high-protein, high-fat snack increases your resting calorie burn (think of this as your metabolism) for up to 3.5 hours.
Just as important, eating fat has been shown to:
- Help protect and run your immune system
- Allow good production of testosterone and estrogen
- Play an essential role with nutrient absorption (think important vitamins like D and E)
- Help all of the cells in your body work as intended
When it comes to understanding fat, your options can be broken down into two main groups: saturated and unsaturated fats. (Yes, there are other specific sub-types of fat, but you can understand most of what you need by focusing on these two.) Both of them have a role in your diet, and both possess a variety of benefits.
The Different Types of Fats
Let’s start with the unsaturated options. Monounsaturated fats—MUFAs (pronounced MOO-fahs), for short—come from the healthy oils found in plant foods such as olives, nuts, and avocados.
A report published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a MUFA-rich diet helped people lose small amounts of weight and body fat without changing their calorie intakes. Another report found that a breakfast high in MUFAs could boost calorie burn for 5 hours after the meal, particularly in people with higher amounts of belly fat.
What’s more, a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people who swallowed 1.9 grams of omega-3s daily (you’d find twice that in a 4-ounce portion of salmon) reduced their body fat, lowered their triglycerides, and raised their HDL cholesterol.
Polyunsaturated fats are more typically discussed as omega-3 and omega 6. Most people actually consume more than enough omega 6, so extra focus is not needed. They are essential, found in nuts and seeds, and most commonly the vegetable oils that many use to cook.
Omega 3s are the typical area that need a little more love. They help your HDL cholesterol, can fight against inflammation, and help heart and brain health. These friendly nutrients can be found in grass-fed meats, fattyfish (like salmon), walnuts, and chia seeds.
For most people, this is an easy barrier of entry: Eat nuts, seeds, and fish. But here’s where most people misunderstand fats.
Saturated fats—like those found in red meat, eggs, and milk—used to be avoided. But now they can be considered an essential part of a healthy diet. No food represents the benefits of fat better than eggs.
If you are skipping out on the yolks in eggs for fear of fat, then you’re missing out on one of the best fat loss foods.
A study in Nutrition Research showed that the fat in eggs helped reduce appetite for up to 24 hours. And British scientists discovered that dieters who ate eggs for breakfast instead of a bagel lost 65 percent more weight—without any negative consequences to their cholesterol or triglycerides. Research has also found that consuming calcium dairy foods, such as milk and yogurt, may also reduce fat absorption from other foods, which makes it easier to stay lean.
The Bottom Line on Eating Fat
You have a lot more freedom to eat “fatty” foods than anyone would have thought 10 years ago.
When I design diets for my online clients, I do so by giving them a wide variety of options that they can plug into meal. This means enjoying everything from steak, pork, chicken with skin, eggs and fish, as well as dairy products, avocados, nuts and seeds and nut butters.
When it comes to cooking, butter, olive and coconut oil are all great options. While each individual is different, a good rule of thumb is that you the higher level of your fat intake will be around .4 to .5 grams per pound of your target body weight. (For example, if you want to weigh 180 pounds, you could eat as much as 90 grams of fat.) The number might initially seem like a lot, but when adjusted for how many calories you should take in per day, it’s exactly right.
Healthy Fat: Which Foods Should You Really Be Eating?
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Big Meals vs. Small Snacks: What’s Best For You?
Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author and, according to The Huffington Post, “one of the most inspiring sources in all of health and fitness.” An award-winning writer and editor, Bornstein was the Fitness and Nutrition editor for Men’s Health, Editorial Director at LIVESTRONG.com, and a columnist for SHAPE, Men’s Fitness, and Muscle & Fitness. He’s also a nutrition and fitness advisor for LeBron James, Cindy Crawford, Lindsey Vonn, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. His work has been featured in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Fast Company, ESPN, and GQ, and he’s appeared on Good Morning America, The Today Show, E! News, and The Cheddar.