It’s a 3-letter word many women fear: FAT. It’s scary in our foods and it’s scary on our bodies. Decades of nutrition recommendations have led many people to believe that fat is killing us. We have been told hundreds of times by healthcare professionals, doctors, family, and friends to cut out fat and cholesterol. Well, I’m going to debunk that myth and tell you that fat is ok. In fact fat from food, can even be healthy. Yes, I said it.
Now, let me clear up a few things first. Not all fat is healthy. Not all fat is bad. A little fat on our bodies is necessary. Women need some fat on their bodies in order to healthily reproduce. If a woman has too little fat, she may have trouble conceiving a child. Fat also helps insulate and protect our major organs. Fat is involved in many processes in the body like absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fats are also messengers and help proteins do their job. Fats are a major energy source during exercise and throughout the day. Without fat, our bodies would be lacking in many important functions.
Fat is also an important component to help you lose weight. Yup, shed those pounds. Fat is very filling and satisfying so having a meal with some “healthy” dietary fats versus just carbohydrates can leave you feeling full and satisfied after a meal instead of always hungry. When you are less hungry, you are less likely to overeat and snack mindlessly helping you control your food intake and lose weight more successfully. Low-fat or fat-free diets are not as successful in the long-term because they leave people feeling hungry.
Take a look at some of your reduced fat, low-fat, and fat-free foods. It’s probably low in calories, protein, fiber, and of course all fats. It is probably high in carbohydrates and not the good kinds like we discussed last week. In many cases low-fat, fat-free, and low-calorie products are highly processed and filled with refined grains and added sugars. These types of foods do not fill us up and leave us looking for more food to satisfy our hunger. Try to stay away from these types of foods as they offer little nutrition with loads of calories.
You want to include “healthy” fats into your diet. These are the unsaturated fats like Omega-3s. You can find them in many foods including:
- Vegetable Oils
- Fatty fish
- Nut and seed butters
Include a few servings of these types of foods into your diet on a daily basis. They will fill you up more, provide essential nutrients, and help you on your weight loss journey. But beware! These do pack in a large amount of calories so pay attention to serving size. You can have a handful of nuts, not the whole bag. Just because it is healthy doesn’t mean you can eat all you want.
Now for the bad side. The “unhealthy” fats are the types of fats that are linked to heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. These types of fats are saturated and trans fats. You can find them in many foods including:
- Butter and anything made with butter
- Cream and anything made with cream
- Creamy dressings, sauces, and soups
- Fried foods
- Baked goods
- Processed meats
- Red meats
- Full-fat dairy
These are the foods we want to limit as much as possible. Less than 10% of your total calorie intake should come from these foods. If you follow a 1500-calorie meal plan for weight loss, that means less than 150 calories should come from unhealthy fats. That is equivalent to about one and half tablespoons of butter.
If you are trying to lose weight and be healthy overall, don’t fall for the fat-free products. Choose full-fat foods filled with healthy, unsaturated fats versus saturated fats. Watch your portion sizes. And most importantly, don’t fear fat. A little goes a long way.
Samantha McCarthy is a registered dietitian and fitness professional who specializes in helping people lose weight. She has a comprehensive approach to health that includes counseling in healthy eating, exercise, stress management, and behavior change. She lives in southern New Hampshire with her husband and enjoys cooking, spending time outdoors, and staying active.