Fat is one of the most feared and misunderstood nutrients. After years and years of demonizing fat, people have learned the message that fat is harmful to your health. Doctors educate their patients to avoid saturated fats and high-fat diets (in their minimal nutrition education in medical school).
The real question is, is fat harmful to your health?
The answer is no. The exception is avoiding trans fats in processed foods as much as possible. Even saturated fat is redeeming itself. The key is eating a variety of natural sources of fat from animals and plants. There are many different types of fats – omega 3s, saturated, monounsaturated, and more.
The truth is fat is essential. Our bodies cannot survive without it.
1. Eating fat will not (necessarily) make you gain weight.
This is the biggest misconception. If I encourage someone to try avocado, they say, “Oh, yes, I’ve heard it’s good for you, but isn’t it fattening?” No! Engrain this in your brain: Eating fat will not make you gain weight.
Quality of food matters more than quantity, but calories still matter. Eat real food, but listen to your hunger and fullness cues. You don't need to go overboard on adding fats to everything. Just add it naturally to foods - cook your meals in fats, top your salad with a dressing, add nut butter to smoothies.
Like I always say, your diet is individual. You may thrive on a higher-fat diet, or you may do better on a moderate-fat diet. Just don’t go out of your way to limit and avoid it.
2. Fat regulates your hormones and fertility.
Fats and cholesterol are the building blocks for hormones, and your hormones help control your health, fertility, and mood. If you have irregular menstrual cycles or are having trouble getting pregnant, you may need to add more fat into your diet to regulate your hormones. Fat also helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins like Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamin D is especially important for hormone regulation.
3. Fat helps improve your mood.
Your brain is made of 60% fat. Every cell in your body uses fat in their membrane, especially your nervous system to transmit messages through nerves. Your brain especially loves omega 3 fatty acids, found mostly in fish like salmon and sardines. One study found that supplementing with fish oil was just as effective as using Prozac to treat depression. It's also linked to mood-boosting effects for post-partum depression and many other mental health disorders. Eating fish at least 2 times a week is a great way to get in omega-3 fatty acids, especially sustainable sardines or my favorite - salmon!
4. Fat is a beauty food.
Fat is the key for beautiful hair, skin, and nails. If you have dry skin or brittle nails and hair, an extra dose of good healthy fats in your diet may do the trick. If you look on your beauty products, you’ll even see that many of them use great fats like coconut oil or avocado. You can skip the other toxic chemicals in those and make your own beauty products from healthy fats.
5. Eating fat can help you achieve a healthy weight for you.
Yes, I mentioned this above, but it’s worth repeating. Adding fat into your diet will let your body know that you’re nourishing it. Eating essential fats and fat-soluble foods supports your metabolism and allow you to lose or gain weight if you need.
Contrary to conventional belief, you can be healthy and overweight. Making small changes over time will help you get healthier over time and lose weight if you would like to. If you are at a normal or low weight for your body but are losing hair, missing your menstrual cycle, or just feel on edge all the time, you honestly maybe need to gain weight. Regardless of your weight, love yourself the way you are. You're worth much more than self-hatred and criticism.
In ancestral cultures, the fattiest cuts of an animal were the most valued because they are energy and nutrient-dense. Fat is naturally found in plant and animals compared to the processed foods that remove fat and replace it with sugar and other artificial ingredients.
Eat Fat & Be Healthy!
If you're curious to learn more about how eating fats can support your health or struggle with fears around dietary fat, contact me about nutrition coaching. I work with clients to create individualized nutritional recommendations and challenges to gradually introduce a healthful amount of fat in their diets.