Why Full-Fat is Always Best
The importance of eating fat in the diet is still difficult for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. I find this is one of the most common and re-occurring conversations I have with clients, and call it “fat-phobia”. For years, especially in the 70s and 80s, we were trained to think that removing fat from the diet was the best way to go for health and weight loss. Low-fat, non-fat and fat-free products lining the grocery store aisles and selling like hot cakes. Unfortunately, what we now realize is that this concept was oh-so-wrong, and is oh-so-damaging to our health. Fat plays an absolutely critical role in our diets and it is vital that we include it in our diet. Here are just a few of the roles that fats play in our body:
- Nutrient Absorption: Fats play a critical role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins dissolve in fat and therefore require fat in the diet in order to be absorbed and assimilated.
- Building Blocks: Our entire body is being regenerated daily, and fats are the primary building blocks of our cell membranes. A diet of “bad” fats build a “bad” body. This is especially important for babies and children when their bodies are still in a critical growth phase.
- Brain Functioning: Your brain is made up of primarily two things: cholesterol and fats, the majority of which are saturated fats. A diet that lacks fats deprives the brain of its natural building blocks and its ability to communicate with the rest of the body.
- Cardiovascular Health: Fats are the preferred nutrient of the heart, and the fats around the heart are mostly saturated. Omega-3 fatty acids are also known to have anti-inflammatory benefits in the body, reducing pain and supporting the immune system.
- Bone Health: Fats play a critical role in our bone health; for calcium to be adequately incorporated into the skeletal system we must have a sufficient saturated fat. Calcium also requires vitamin D, a fat-soluble vitamin, in order to be absorbed, and individuals who are vitamin K deficient have repeatedly been shown to have a greater risk of fracture.
- Hormone Balance: All of our hormones are actually made of fats. Cutting them from the diet is a surefire way to make that “time of the month”, and even menopause, absolutely miserable.
- Source of Energy: A major benefit of fat in the diet is its ability to supply energy. Fats actually provide twice the amount of energy as carbohydrates, and what does not get eaten right away is stored as our reserve fuel.
Besides the fact that fat is an absolutely critical nutrient to our health, removing the fat from a whole food also makes it taste, well… like shit. Fat gives food flavour, helps keep us full longer and keeps us satisfied. Removing fat from food requires food manufacturers to add ingredients to actually make it taste good, specifically refined sugar, flours, thickeners, and salts. Making us crave more and eat more.
Think about it, in order to make something fat-free or low-fat, you are taking a whole food, in its natural state and removing a nutrient that is found naturally in it. Guess what? Mother Nature put that nutrient there for a reason. Here are some examples to consider:
- Low-Fat Peanut Butter: The most prominent and important nutrient in nuts is fat. So if you remove it, what are you left with? Not much, that’s what.
- Fat-Free Salad Dressing: C’mon. Olive oil. The purpose of the oil is actually to aid the digestion of raw vegetables and help you absorb all of the vitamin A, C and K in those veggies.
- Low-Fat Dairy: This one is my favourite. Three of the most important nutrients in dairy are its fat, vitamin D and calcium. Get this, once you remove the fat, you can’t absorb the fat-soluble vitamin D. Once you remove the vitamin D, a vitamin that helps with the absorption of calcium, you can’t absorb much of that calcium either. So what are you left with? Basically sugar water. Delicious.
I’m sorry to break the news to ya, but low-fat is not the answer. Low-fat is even less of the answer for those who are on a carbohydrate-restricted diet. If you are cutting back on grains, starches, beans and lentils, increasing the fat in your diet is absolutely imperative. By cutting back your carbohydrate intake you are limiting your energy supply (carbohydrates = gas in your gas tank), and therefore you must increase your reserve fuel source; fats. Going low-carb and low-fat is a quick route to going low-energy as well.
If it is not clear yet, I will say it again loud and clear – fat is vital for your health, and going fat-free is making you sick. The best sources of fats are those found in whole foods in their natural form. All types of fat are needed by the body, including saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat – none of these are bad guys, rather it is their source that is the issue! There are many different types of fat but to keep it simple will help ensure you have the best sources in your diet. Load up the diet with naturally occurring fats like nuts (walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, cashews and hazelnuts), seeds (flax, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame and chia) olives, avocado, cold-pressed coconut oil and olive oil, grass-fed butter, eggs (yolks included) and fatty cold water fish like salmon.