Science says: You need fat in your diet. You just have to make sure you’re consuming the right kind of good fats, and the right amount.
What are ‘healthy fats’?
It wasn’t too long ago that leading health experts believed that fat was all-around bad news for your health. But—thankfully!—an emerging body of research is proving the opposite to be true: certain types of fat actually improve our health. Most of this “healthy fat” science focuses on two main categories of unsaturated fats—monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). PUFAs, which include omega-3 fatty acids, help regulate inflammation and appear to play a role in everything from heart health to mood and happiness. MUFAs may reduce bad cholesterol and increase the good kind. MUFAs also appear to target and shrink dangerous belly fat linked with metabolic disorders. These good-for-you unsaturated fats are critical for your head-to-toe health—and here are some clues that you might need to load up on more good fats in your daily meals.
You’re having trouble losing weight
It sounds completely counterintuitive, but you need to eat fat to burn fat. Katherine Zeratsky, RD, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Fitness magazinethat eating a small amount of unsaturated fats at each meal will help you feel more satisfied over a longer period of time, and therefore consume less overall. When it comes to the low-fat vs. low-carb weight loss debate, the latest science squarely favors low-carb diets. A randomized study from the National Institutes of Health recently found that low-carb eaters lost more weight (about eight pounds) than low-fat dieters over a 12-month period.
You’re always hungry
If you leave the dinner table only to feel pangs of hunger again soon afterward, you might not be consuming the right kinds of fat to help fill you up. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition measured the effect of eating different kinds of fats on satiety and food intake, among other things. Fifteen subjects consumed different kinds of fat at their meals or none at all. The results showed that participants who consumed unsaturated fat felt more full after every meal. Of course, eating more fiber or loading up on lean protein can also help ward away hunger longer.
You have inexplicably dry skin
It’s not from the sun, weather, or a lack of lotion, so why is your skin always dry? It might be related to a lack of healthy fats in your diet, according to Los Angeles dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, who wrote the book Feed Your Face. “All of your skin cells are wrapped in a protective bubble of fats that helps to protect the skin from drying out and dehydrating, and it also helps to keep out harmful substances in your environment,” said Wu. “If you have a problem with the skin barrier, your skin looks and feels dry, and can be more prone to eczema rashes. In severe cases, your skin can actually visibly crack and bleed.” Loading up on more unsaturated fats may reverse the trend, but Wu cautions overdoing it: a little will go a long way.
You’re low on energy
Your heart gets 70 percent of its fuel from fat, which is packed with energy, notes Hossein Ardehali, MD, a cardiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, which is more than double the calories found in the same amount of carbohydrates or protein. Yes, that means there are way more calories in an avocado than in an apple, but if you constantly feel like you’re running on empty, it might be time for more (healthy) fat-rich snacks. Stop believing these myths about fat that are keeping you from losing weight.
You have trouble concentrating
Your brain is 60 percent fat, and it needs fat to keep running efficiently, according to Greatist.com. A diet high in monounsaturated fats, which you can find in foods like olive oil, safflower oil, nuts and nut butters, increases production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in the functioning of learning and memory processes.
The vitamins you eat aren’t doing their job
You make sure you’re noshing on foods abundant with vitamins A, D, E and K, but maybe you’re not reaping their healthy benefits. Without adequate vitamin A, you could have dry eyes and skin, for example; without enough vitamin C, you could have prolonged wound healing time and more bruising. All four of these vitamins require fats in order to be absorbed and used by your body.
You’re constantly cold
Seals have extra padding for a reason: The ocean is a chilly place. You, too, are supposed to carry a small layer of fat insulation underneath your skin to regulate your internal temperature, according to SFGate.com. If you always feel cold, and you seem to be missing a layer of your own blubber, it might be time to boost your consumption of avocados, nuts, seeds, and other fatty foods.
8 Subtle Signs You’re Eating too Much Bad Fat
Too much bad fat—saturated and trans—can lead to more than weight gain. But how much is too much? If any of the following signs sound familiar, it might be time to change your diet.
You keep having “senior moments”
If you struggle to remember names, dates, or what you ate for breakfast this morning, you might want to take a look at your diet. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts analyzed the diets of 6,000 women over the age of 65 and found that those who consumed the highest amount of saturated fat had worse overall memory and cognition over four years of testing. Swap out saturated fat-heavy butter and red meat for olive oil and fish, rich in “good” mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, known to help protect against mental decline.
Nutrition labels? Who reads those?
Trans fat, the worst type of dietary fat, is the sneakiest because it can hide in plain sight if you don’t know what to look for; and if you throw items in your shopping cart without glancing at the labels, you could ingest way too much. “People might be eating a lot of trans fat without even realizing it, depending on which processed foods they buy,” says Georgia Giannopoulos, RD-AP, CDN, CNSC, a senior dietitian at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell in New York City. Trans fat is often listed on the ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated oil.” It wreaks havoc on your body by increasing the amount of bad LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reducing the amount of good HDL cholesterol. It also triggers inflammation, which has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Foods commonly containing trans fat include packaged items like cookies, crackers, chips, doughnuts, some frozen meals, pie crust, stick margarine, and coffee creamer.
You think all fats are equal
“Not knowing what types of fats are healthier than others is a big reason people might eat too much of the bad,” says Giannopoulos. Saturated fat, the bad kind, is found in red meat, whole milk, cheese, butter, and poultry with the skin on. It’s also found in some oils that people mistake for super-healthy, such as coconut. “Olive oil, sunflower oil, and flaxseed oil are better for you,” she says.
You’re constantly popping antacids
If you take your morning coffee with a side of Tums, it could be a sign you’re eating too much fat. Saturated fat takes longer to digest, so when you eat a fatty meal, indigestion and heartburn can bubble up the next day when excess stomach acid splashes back into your esophagus.
You’re a fried food junkie
French fries and chicken wings might be treats for your tastebuds, but not for the rest of your body. Deep fried foods are packed with trans fat, which throw your good and bad cholesterol levels out of whack and can even make you insulin resistant, increasing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it doesn’t take long for your health to take a hit: Harvard researchers found that for every 2 percent of calories from trans fat daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23 percent.
You have high cholesterol
If your cholesterol levels are higher than your doc would like, don’t assume only your genetics are to blame. Saturated fat drives up levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, which can increase your chance of developing heart disease. If your cholesterol is high, be mindful of how much red meat, eggs, and fatty dairy you consume; and follow the American Heart Association’s recommendation of no more than 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat a day for a 2,000 calorie diet.
You cook everything in butter
If you try to mimic your favorite TV chef in your own kitchen, you’ll likely find butter makes a frequent appearance. But beware—just two tablespoons of butter contains 23 grams of fat, almost all of it unhealthy saturated fat. Leave the butter for your toast and use olive oil, which is filled with healthy monounsaturated fat, for cooking.
Your favorite pants feel snugger and snugger
Consuming too much of anything unhealthy makes weight gain more likely, but especially when it comes to saturated fat. A small Swedish study found that participants who ate a large amount of saturated fat (in the form of muffins) over the course of seven weeks gained more belly fat than those who ate muffins made with polyunsaturated fat.