How Healthy Fats Have Improved My Diet and Lifestyle
So many people are scared of eating fat. I partially understand why as “fat” is a scary word with many negative connotations associated with it. What a lot of people don’t know is that their fear of dietary fat can largely be attributed to one study done in the late 1950’s. The study is the Seven Countries Study and it was conducted by Ancel Keys.
Keys sought to explore the relationship between diet and coronary heart disease. He analyzed seven countries and one of his main findings was that he noticed a correlation between saturated fat in the diet and heart disease. His hypothesis was that consuming saturated fat raised cholesterol in our blood which caused our arteries to clog. This led him to conclude that consuming saturated fat caused heart disease and should be omitted from a healthy diet.
Keys’ findings sparked a whole movement towards a low-fat diet and a slew of low-fat food products were created. People started staying away from all fat sources like egg yolks, nuts, butter, avocados, whole milk, and instead starting buying low-fat processed foods.
Keys’ conclusion has been debunked many times and there are numerous criticisms of his study. People say he cherry picked the data and only picked the countries that supported his theory. He conveniently left out countries that have low levels of heart disease and consume a high amount of fat in their diet and vis-a-versa. Another major criticism is that he ignored the data on sugar which actually showed a stronger correlation to heart disease than dietary fat.
Regardless of his study’s shortcomings, it seems that sixty years later people are still fearful of eating fat and Ancel Keys is still making an impact on America’s diet. Personally, I am here to make the case that consuming healthy fat should be a crucial part of your diet — healthy is the key word though. Not all fats are created equally. There are healthy fat sources and there are fats that are not so good for you.
What Exactly Are Healthy Fats?
According to the Harvard Health Blog, good fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. “Mono” and “poly” refers to the differences in their chemical structure. Examples of monounsaturated fats include olives, olive oil, sesame oil, avocados, avocado oil, and most nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Examples of these include fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout, herring), flaxseeds, walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and eggs.
Saturated fats, which are often solid at room temperature, are a third category of fats. Saturated fats are a little less cut and dry. For example butter, red meat, and cheese are all saturated fats. Although Keys’ findings that saturated fat causes heart disease have been debunked, I would still argue that these foods should be enjoyed only in moderation. On the other hand, virgin coconut oil and MCT oil are also saturated fats and the consumption of these have many amazing health benefits.
What Fats Should You Avoid?
It is universally accepted that trans fats should be avoided and are not part of a healthy diet. Trans fats are primarily artificially created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Commonly, these are seen on the labels of processed foods as “partially hydrogenated oils.” Trans fats are found in baked goods, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, stick margarine, and other similar foods.
According to the American Heart Association, trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. This is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. This is where people are right to avoid fat in their diet, but by eliminating all fats they are missing out on healthy fats and the crucial health benefits they provide. It wasn’t until I started regularly consuming healthy fats that I felt I had really dialed in my healthy diet and lifestyle. And now I try and always incorporate one healthy fat source with every meal.
How Healthy Fats Have Improved My Diet and Lifestyle
- I can go longer between meals — Our hunger is regulated by nine hormones in the human body. One of these hormones is ghrelin. Ghrelin is commonly referred to as our “hunger hormone” as it tells our bodies that we are hungry and causes our appetite to increase. Studies have found that consuming fat causes our ghrelin levels to decrease therefore causing our hunger levels to decrease. I have noticed that I feel full noticeably longer after a meal if I’ve included a healthy fat.
- My meals are more satisfying — Including a healthy fat with my meal makes my food that much more satisfying. What sounds better to you- broccoli slaw, or broccoli slaw with a “cashew cream sauce” drizzled over it? Zucchini noodles, or zucchini noodles with pesto sauce? By adding that healthy fat I add a lot more flavor to my meal which makes me less likely to crave more flavorful foods post-meal like sugary desserts.
- Regulates my mood and energy levels — Consuming fat slows down the absorption of our food. Studies like this one have shown that consuming dietary fat with carbohydrates helps keep our blood sugar lower. By avoiding big spikes in my blood sugar, I notice that my mood and energy levels stay more consistent. I am less likely to have a big crash in energy and get that sudden “hangry” feeling.
- Helps minimize snacking — Due to fat’s stabilizing effect on my blood sugar and my increased satisfaction with my meals, I do not feel the need to snack anywhere near as much. I’m a big proponent of eating when I am hungry, but the downside of snacking is most convenient snacks are full of carbohydrates. By reducing my snacking, I am reducing my carbohydrate intake and therefore eating a healthier diet.
I can’t emphasize enough the difference regularly consuming healthy fats has had on my health and day-to-day life. If they aren’t already a part of your diet, give it a try and see if it makes a difference for you.
- by Paige Sabatine