Eating fat doesn't make you fat
Can we please just put this misconception to bed already? Fat, in and of itself, is not fattening. Paul Salter, a licensed and registered dietitian and the nutrition editor for Bodybuilding.com, explains, "What's misunderstood is that no single nutrient, or food, causes weight gain. When trying to lose weight, what matters most is that fewer calories are being consumed than the amount being burned. Weight loss can be achieved with a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet, a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, and even a dairy-filled, gluten-based diet!"
That said, it's important to understand that fat does, in fact, contain more calories per gram, at nine calories per gram, than the other two macronutrients -- proteins and carbohydrates -- which each contain roughly four calories per gram. So if weight loss is a goal, and if creating a daily calorie deficit is required to achieve weight loss, it's important to be cognizant of what you're eating, and in what quantities, to ensure you're not overindulging. This doesn't mean you should cut fat completely from your diet, but that you may not want to add those fries and shake to your occasional burger splurge. All those extra fat calories can really add up.
Consuming the right fats, in the right quantities, is crucial
Your body legitimately requires fat to survive. In fact, some of your body's fat stores are termed "essential fat," because reducing your body-fat percentage below these levels can interfere with your ability to function properly. Namely, fat plays a role in:
- Storing the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
- Protecting your internal organs
- Providing energy for daily activity
- Supporting brain function
- Facilitating cell signaling and communication
How to make fat work for you
First things first, ditch your all-or-nothin' attitude. You shouldn't feel guilty every time you down a slice of pizza because "OMG, all the fat!" Nor should you eat a dozen donuts with the flippancy of "It's fine! Don't you know fat is good for you now?" Again, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.
Salter says, "It's important to make unsaturated fats the focus. Examples include nuts, seeds, nut butters, avocado, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), egg yolks, olive and canola oil. Unsaturated fats have a positive impact on heart health, blood lipid levels, and possess anti-inflammatory properties."
Say yes to a salmon dinner with a mango-avocado side salad, and less yes to a deep-fried ice cream sandwich. But there's a reason I said "less yes," and that's because saturated fats aren't completely off-limits (although a deep-fried ice cream sandwich is still suspect -- keep reading).
"Including saturated fat in moderation can help support optimal testosterone and vitamin D production. Examples of saturated fat include coconut oil, animal fat, and dairy," says Salter.
In other words, you might want to switch out that deep-fried ice cream sandwich for plain Greek yogurt topped with shredded coconut and dark chocolate chips. Which sounds pretty delicious, honestly.
Finally, if you're going to vilify fat of any kind, it should be trans fats. As Salter points out, "Trans fats have been shown to negatively impact heart health and blood lipid levels. Examples include baked goods such as donuts, muffins, cakes, pies, cookies, candy, and other processed foods." (See what I meant about those donuts and ice cream sandwiches?)
How to make sure you're consuming the right amount of fat
Unfortunately, there's no one-size-fits-all answer to exactly how much fat you should consume, but there are some pretty well-established parameters. Salter says, "Most people benefit from a range of total fat calories between 20% to 35% of the total daily calorie intake. For instance, for an 1,800-calorie-per-day diet, the fat consumption would equate to 40 to 70g of fat." That sounds like a lot, but it adds up fast -- a single avocado, for example, can deliver around 30g of fat, and even though most of that is unsaturated, just two will put you right in the recommended daily intake zone.
Plus, it's important to remember that the type of fat you're consuming is important. Salter adds, "I recommend making at least two-thirds of your total fat come from unsaturated sources, and the remaining one-third from saturated fats." So if you consider the example above, saturated fat should only account for about 12 to 21g of fat in a day.
Aren't there high-fat diets that help people LOSE weight?
You may have heard of the latest, greatest weight-loss craze, the ketogenic diet. According to Salter, this diet is a "high fat, moderate protein, very low carbohydrate diet intended to place you in a state of ketosis, or a metabolic state in which ketone bodies, rather than glucose, become the preferred fuel source."
With the ketogenic diet, you're essentially flipping traditional thought about nutrient consumption on its head, so that fat makes up roughly 70% to 75% of your calories, with carbs accounting for just 5% to 10%. That's a really low carb intake, especially when you consider that fruits and vegetables are carbs.
While there have been some promising results regarding the use of a ketogenic diet for weight loss, it's important to note two things: 1) Starting and maintaining a ketogenic diet requires very close monitoring of carbohydrate intake to effectively maintain ketosis, which makes it a tough diet to follow, and 2) most of the research performed has been in a clinical setting, often in regard to its use as a treatment for health conditions like epilepsy and cancer.
This means there's a lot we just don't know about its efficacy as a dietary protocol for the general population, although Salter is quick to add, "A ketogenic diet has been shown to improve several metabolic and health parameters, specifically in overweight populations, and those displaying risk factors for metabolic syndrome, and those with diabetes."
All that to say, if you're thinking of trying a ketogenic diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before diving in. But if you're thinking of diving back in on that burger, balance it out with some avocados and olive oil, and you should be good to go.
Stay in check with these fun Keto recipes from our friends at PureWow.