For years, people assumed that eating fat makes you fat, which is actually pretty reasonable. But as the low-fat craze took off, obesity rates continued to skyrocket, throwing that logic out the window.
Now, it's becoming more and more apparent that eating certain kinds of fat could actually help you lose weight -- with some caveats, of course.
Fat keeps you satisfied
The bottom line is that eating fatty foods makes you feel full and satisfied, both noble goals of most human beings who don't want to starve to death. This is a feeling you've experienced after eating a bacon cheeseburger… and you can probably guess that eating bacon cheeseburgers on the regular is not a good weight-loss strategy.
Satisfaction is a crucial clue, though, as to why eating fat can actually help you drop pounds while still eating delicious foods. Rebecca Lewis, registered dietitian at HelloFresh, says the reason is that "fat helps keep us satiated so we avoid mindless snacking -- which is where most of us end up consuming extra calories in the day."
But is there more to the story? Of course there is; there's no bacon cheeseburger diet in the world that you can find anyone to credibly recommend.
Get a fat education
The key to eating fat and losing weight is the type of fatty foods you consume, mainly because all fat is definitely not created equal. While fat is fat on a caloric level, your body doesn't see it that way. Knowing which fats are good for you, and which will kill you faster, is crucial to eating well and losing weight while you do it.
Basically, unsaturated fats are the go-to fats you'll want to look for on your food nutrition labels, and omega-3 fatty acids are kings of the hill. "These fats are considered 'good' because they help protect against heart disease, encourage brain strength, and build healthy skin, hair, and nails," says Lewis. You'll find this stuff in avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish such as tuna and salmon. On the heart-clogger list, you'll find saturated fats (keep to a minimum) and trans fats (avoid altogether).
Carbs and hormones play a part
Many low-carb diets often encourage consumption of good-fat foods (and, by definition, foods that don't have a bunch of junk carbs), which means that your body will turn to your fat stores for fuel because you don't have a ton of low-quality carbs -- like Twinkies -- on board.
Dr. Ernest Brown, founder of Doctors To You, says it's helpful to think of fat as a backup battery. He adds, "Healthy fats also increase adipokines, which are hormones released specifically from your fat cells. These hormones are satiating and leave you feeling full." Healthy fats also work with your gut to release other hormones that help curb your appetite -- it's nice to know that your hormones are good for more than regulating your sex drive.
Fat is necessary
Avoiding fat as much as possible not only has the potential to derail your weight loss goals because you're crazed with hunger and binge on the wrong types of foods, but you actually need it to function well as a living human being.
Jess Scott, nutritionist for Graze, explains that omega-3 fatty acids, which are polyunsaturated fatty acids found in things like walnuts and fish oil, work with your body to help it function normally. Monounsaturated fats, which you can find in things like olive oil and avocados, help contribute to a healthy blood flow to the brain and they also work with your body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, which includes a lot of essential vitamins.
You need all that stuff, so don't wreck your brain and body because you're afraid of consuming fat. Just try to make sure you're favoring eating more unsaturated fat in the form of plant oils, fish, and nuts than saturated fat -- though red meat does contain some unsaturated fat, so don't kill yourself if you can't resist that burger every once in a while.
A cautionary note
Even though these are the good types of fat, don't go bonkers as you chow down -- no matter what kind of fat you eat, it still provides nine calories per gram, which is more than double that of what carbs and protein will give you (both provide four calories per gram each). The good news is that eating fat will help you feel full faster, requiring less input than carbs or protein.
So thanks, fat. Thanks a lot! As long as you do it right, fat can help you shed weight, which is what you've dreamed about your entire life, right?
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