It’s no coincidence that the rise in obesity started with the rise in sugar consumption. With this, people also stopped eating a lot of fats for fear that they’d become fat. Ironically, they turned away healthy fats like butter or olive oils only to replace them with highly processed things like margarine or canola oil.
The thing is, healthy fats are kind of the key to a healthy weight. When we ditch the healthy fats in favor of sugar- or carb-heavy fares, we actually mess up our hormones.
Did you know that your body has hormones that either help with weight loss or make it really, really hard?
The Hormones in Charge
Insulin is the hormone released by your pancreas that helps remove glucose from your blood. It moves the glucose (aka energy) to the cells that need it most – typically the brain, liver and muscles.
When those cells are full of energy, insulin then shunts excess to fat cells for storage. That way, theoretically, your body can sustain itself over long periods without food.
Problems arise, though, when we eat a high-carb / low-fat diet. High-carb foods break down really fast and turn into a LOT of glucose. This massive amount of glucose hits the blood at the same time and your cells only need so much at a given time.
Think about it like this: Your car has a gas tank of a certain size. If there was a sudden burst of gasoline from the pump, your car could hold only as much as the size of your tank. The rest would just spill over. Right? That’s kind of what’s happening when you eat a high carb meal or snack.
And that leftover glucose gets stored in fat cells.
Your stress hormone, cortisol, triggers the release of energy from the muscles and liver (not fat!) when you’re stressed out. It’s actually catabolizing your muscles cells, turning amino acids into glucose for energy.
This then triggers insulin to come along and move that energy to where it’s needed most…or straight into the fat cells. Unless you’re exercising or running for your life during stressful times, that released energy won’t get used up. It will end up in the fat cells.
Leptin is your satiety or fullness hormone. In conjunction with ghrelin (your hunger hormone), leptin helps to regulate appetite.
However, when your blood sugar is out of whack from too many high carb meals, this hormone doesn’t work as well as it should. And you’re always hungry. And you crave a lot of carbs or quick energy.
What’s the Deal with Healthy Fats Then?
The Standard American Diet of the past 60 or so years has been pretty devoid of healthy fats. Plus, a lot of the meals deemed healthy for weight loss are very high in carbs and very low in healthy fats.
When you combine healthy fats with every meal and snack, you slow down the release of glucose (aka energy) into the blood. It becomes more of a trickle, giving insulin ample time to move that glucose into the muscles, brain and liver for use. This means less is available for storage too!
10 Healthy Fats to Eat Now
You don’t need to be afraid of fat. Of course, there are still ‘bad’ fats out there, like hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans fats. Stay away from those. They’re typically found in commercially baked sweets, most mainstream nut butters (like Skippy peanut butter), and other packaged goods. Always read the labels to check for these.
Eat 1-2 tablespoons or servings of healthy fats at each meal and snack. This is a great starting point for most people.
Avocados are loaded with healthy fats and tons of fiber, two main reasons this is a nutritional superfood. Both fat and fiber help slow down digestion of carbs so add this delicious fruit to lots of meals.
- Dark Chocolate
Yes, chocolate that is at least 70% cacao has a high fat content. Plus, it’s lower in sugar than milk or white chocolate. Dark chocolate also contains a lot of antioxidants and magnesium.
- Whole Eggs
This is one area where diets got it wrong. The yolk of the egg is its powerhouse – you get a complete protein (i.e. all the amino acids your body needs) from the yolk. It’s full of healthy fats and lots of vitamins and minerals.
Cholesterol from eggs shouldn’t make them a bad food. Your body needs cholesterol to make its stress and sex hormones, and if you don’t eat enough, your liver just has to try to make up the difference.
- Wild-Caught Salmon
Salmon, along with mackerel and trout, is very high in omega-3 fatty acids as well as protein. These types of fatty acids are extremely anti-inflammatory and good for the heart, joints and brain.
- Macadamia Nuts
Macadamia nuts are one of the higher fat nuts making them a delicious addition to most snacks. You can even get (or make) macadamia nut butter!
These Hawaiian gems are rich in monounsaturated (anti-inflammatory) fats and they help reduce cholesterol. Win-win!
- Extra virgin olive oil
This one should come as no surprise. It’s a staple in the Mediterranean Diet, one of the world’s healthiest populations. EVOO is very anti-inflammatory and super easy to add to salads, soups and more. Just make sure to eat it cold – never heat it above a medium temperature or it will become rancid.
- Full-fat coconut milk
This is my absolute favorite of all the healthy fats. Coconuts may be high in saturated fats but this doesn’t mean they should be avoided. On the contrary, because the type of saturated fat in coconuts actually increases your good cholesterol, it’s rich in diets of people who rarely have heart disease, diabetes or even cancer.
- Organic virgin coconut oil
This amazing oil is great for cooking at high heats and works well in sautés or stir-fries. Rich in a disease fighting type of saturated fat, called lauric acid, coconut oil has lots of fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s been shown to help aid in weight loss and improves thyroid function.
- Ground flaxseeds
Ground flaxseeds are small but mighty. A tablespoon of these daily helps detoxify excess estrogens (because they have so much fiber) to reduce symptoms of PMS and menopause, aid in weight loss, and improve the progesterone to estrogen balance. Just make sure they’re ground as your body will not break down whole flaxseeds.
Another amazing nut, walnuts are high in omega-3 fatty acids and help improve the look and feel of your skin. They lower total cholesterol and the dreaded ‘bad’ cholesterol levels.
There are tons of healthy fats available to you these days so take advantage! Remember, adding healthy fats to your meals and snacks slows down the digestion of carbs, reducing insulin spikes and thus fat storage!