Good FatsContrary to what many of you might think or have been led to believe by well-meaning health professionals or manufacturers of low-fat foods, I have an important secret to tell you girls: Eating “fat” does not make you fat! Counting calories does not make you skinnier, either, but we will leave that for another article.

Americans spend $54 billion on diet products and seem to be on nonstop low-fat, low-carb and low-calorie diets, yet we are getting fatter as a nation, with 71.6 million Americans considered obese, according to the American Heart Association. We spend $100 billion on health care, yet we are reaching near epidemics with respect to cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

On a personal level, are you constantly on a diet and worried about everything that you put in your mouth and still can’t lose weight? Do you have friends or family members who are always on some sort of diet or religiously counting calories? Are they getting skinnier? And, if they are, are they able to keep it off? Probably not.

Many clients come to me with the belief that if they eat an avocado or put olive oil on their salads that they will gain weight. Or, if they add that extra hempseed or flaxseed oil to their food, this will somehow add to their waistline! This could not be further from the truth.

Ever since the 1980s when the National Academy of Sciences published a study linking dietary fat with cancer and continuing on with the famous Dr. Pritikin, Americans have been on the low-fat bandwagon! Well, I will give you a hint: Fats (at least the good variety) are not the problem and can even help you keep off the weight if integrated properly into your diet! Read on to learn more…

So, what are fats exactly?
Fats are macronutrients (yes, they are nutrients you need!) that are made up of hydrogen atoms forming building blocks called fatty acids. There are three main types of fats and, depending on the configuration of the hydrogen atoms, fats can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.

Does it make a difference which fats I consume?
Yes! Not all fats are created equal, and it is essential that we are consuming the right types of fats not only for our waistline but also for our health! Excess consumption of the wrong types of fats can lead to weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, colon cancer and even diabetes. While there are some fats that you want to avoid (trans fats) and minimize (saturated fats), it is important to integrate the good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) into your diet.

What are the benefits of fats?
Not only are fats important for brain development during infancy and childhood, but they are essential for growth, healthy skin, vitamin absorption, the regulation of bodily function and providing energy for the body.

Monounsaturated fats help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering low-density lipoproteins otherwise known as LDLs. (As a side note, we want high high-density lipoproteins and low low-density lipoproteins.)

Polyunsaturated fats contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost brainpower; reduce depression; protect against heart disease; prevent cancerous activity in the body; and minimize risk for diabetes, arthritis, asthma, PMS, allergies, water retention, rough or dry skin and dull hair. Consuming omega-3s also is helpful in fetal brain development and brain function, and has been connected with the improvement of ADHD in children. Polyunsaturated fats have also been said to prevent heart disease by lowering dangerous LDL cholesterol in the body.

Fats can even help us lose weight by helping keep us satiated as well as boosting our metabolism.

Exactly how does fat help in weight loss?
As mentioned before, fat helps our bodies feel satiated, giving us a fuller feeling. Have you ever had a low-fat cup of yogurt, then a few minutes later just wanted something more? Our bodies know that something was missing and, in my opinion, this is the fallacy of the low-fat products, because in the end, often we end up eating more.

Fats also work on a metabolic level, actually helping us boost our metabolism! Have you ever wondered why the Italians serve their bread with olive oil? When we eat healthy monounsaturated fats such as avocados, olive oil and walnuts, and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats such as hempseed or flaxseed oils, these healthy fats actually help metabolize carbohydrates and control insulin levels, therefore aiding in weight loss. Eicosanoids, called the “master hormones,” help control insulin levels by slowing down the release of sugar from carbohydrates into the bloodstream, thereby decreasing the production of insulin. When you consume good fats, they bind to the PPAR receptor (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor) and turn on genes that increase your metabolism, help you burn fat and lower your sensitivity to insulin.
Confused? Here is my fat cheat sheet:

Yes: Go for It and Eat Without Guilt!

Monounsaturated fats
are found in olive oil, avocados, canola and peanut oil; nuts such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, cashews and pistachios; and seeds such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.

Contrary to what many erroneously believe, these fats will not wreck your diet and, because they are plant-based, also add a good source of protein to your diet. Definitely do not snack on nuts all day, but try adding an avocado to your salad at lunchtime or having a handful of nuts as an afternoon snack and see how good you will feel!

Polyunsaturated fats are found in salmon and other fatty cold-water fish such as mackerel and swordfish (watch mercury intake, though), flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hempseed and hempseed oil, corn oil, and soybean oil.

I put hempseed on my salads, throw flaxseed in my cereal, squirt flaxseed or hempseed oil on our pasta and even put them in my morning smoothies! Be creative—even my children can’t tell when I add them, and they boost the nutritional value of the food we are all eating!

Proceed with Caution and Eat Sparingly!

Saturated fats
are fats found in animal products such as red meat, pork, chicken, eggs, dairy products such as cheese and whole milk, butter, and coconut oil (since it is plant-based, I consider this one okay in moderation). When these are consumed, the liver uses saturated fat to manufacture cholesterol, and too much can result in a high level of LDLs (supposed to be low). Many experts recommend that you keep your saturated fat consumption below 10 percent of your dietary intake, but I say why go there at all!

Just Don’t Do It (Ever)!

Trans fats
are fats produced when a liquid oil is solidified during hydrogenation. Trans fats are found in fried foods, packaged foods and even animal products such as beef, lamb, pork, lard and butter. Trans fats do a double whammy by raising LDLs (supposed to be low) and lowering HDLs (supposed to be high). In 2006, New York City’s Board of Health even banned artery-clogging trans fats from restaurants, and hopefully many others will follow suit.

What is the bottom line?
If we want to maintain optimal health and look and feel our best, we must eat a primarily whole foods and, in my opinion, plant-based diet. Girls, please STOP counting calories and being so vigilant about your fat intake and just make sure what you are putting in your body are lots of fresh fruits and vegetables—and, don’t forget the healthy fats! Healthy fats do not make you fat!

Katherine Pennington

Katherine Pennington is a holistic health counselor and founder of Be in Balance, which helps women and men lose weight, reduce stress and achieve more balance in their lives. Additionally, Katherine runs a cooking program for kids and their moms called Kids in the Kitch, in which she helps mothers and fathers cook healthier meals for their families as well as works one-on-one with children. Katherine is also an avid runner and marathoner and advises athletes on how to fuel for maximum performance and health.

Katherine graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition/Columbia Teachers College and is a member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Additionally, Katherine is a founding member of Women for Family Nutrition (www.wffn.org).

Katherine resides in New York City and is the mother to two beautiful children.

Posted in Nutrition