This blog post is a continuation of The Busy Mom’s Guide to Eating Well.
Step 3: Understand that low-fat often means more sugar, and that healthy fats are essential to our health
This is a fun step! This step says we can and should eat plenty of delicious and satisfying food. Fats have gotten a bad reputation over the years. Yes, of course, there are some types of fats that we should avoid, but without a doubt, we need fat in our diet. Fat is a preferred energy source for our bodies, and it is a “superior source” of energy when compared to sugars and refined carbohydrates.
Not only is dietary fat essential for healthy brain and nervous system function, but fats are the building blocks for many of our body’s hormones. Important nutrients called fat soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E and K) and other fat soluble nutrients like CoQ10 are absorbed only if fat is included in our meals. Fats also are vital in helping us feel satisfied after a meal. I recommend generous amounts of healthy fats when working with binge eating disorders and emotional and mindless eating behaviors, because when we pair eating more fat with the elimination of foods that spike both our blood sugar and insulin (like refined sugars and refined carbohydrates), we don’t overeat!
The term “low-fat” is everywhere and has been everywhere for a few decades now. Usually when a food says its low-fat, either the food is highly processed and refined, or it has been manipulated in some way to take the fat out. The process of removing fat from foods very often results in the food having a higher carb content or added sugar to make the food taste better. It is important to realize that in the process of a food becoming “low-fat,” sugar may be added, carbohydrate content may increase, artificial sugars may be generously added, trans fats may be added, and the calorie content may remain similar to the original “higher fat” food. Interestingly over the past 25 years, our foods have become more and more “low-fat” … and we as a collective nation are getting heavier and sicker.
Fats deserve a better reputation. Fat is the more reliable and preferred energy source in the body. While sugar is a “cheap source of fuel,” fat is the opposite. Sugar is considered a cheap source of fuel because our bodies burn through the quick fix rapidly and want more, more, more! While sugar may feel good going down, we often feel a dip in energy after. It is these ups and downs that make it very difficult for us to navigate our natural cues of hunger and satiety; they confuse our physiology so that we don’t know what our bodies really need to feel healthy and satisfied. Fat is the ideal energy source for how we move our bodies on a daily basis. It sustains us through the day on many levels; our energy, our blood sugar and our moods remain more stable and even relying on this “superior fuel.”
People often question this Step #3 by asking, “Isn’t eating more fat unhealthy?” Answering this question is a struggle because of all the misinformation that has been circulating for so many years. Yes, it is well understood and documented that eating trans fats is not healthy, and it is strongly associated with heart disease. There is also agreement that omega-3 fatty acids are essential and beneficial. However there is mounting evidence that contradicts long held beliefs about the dangers of eating animal fats. Saturated fat has been demonized by the media and medical communities for many years. Contrary to popular opinion, recent studies are finding that there is no association between saturated fat intake and increased risk for cardiovascular disease. By the same token, new studies are debunking the long-held belief that eating dietary cholesterol increases blood lipid levels; for the vast majority of individuals it does not affect cholesterol levels and in some cases improves HDL levels.
Here is a list of foods that I consider to be great sources of healthy fats in the diet: eggs, nuts, nut butters, avocado, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, cod liver oil, fish oil, and salmon. While some will disagree with me, I also recommended high quality animal products (grass-fed, organic) as a way to increase fat and protein intake and both satisfy and nourish the body.
I often hear one last lingering question. “Won’t eating more fat, make me fat?” If you are eating refined sugar and refined grains AND increasing fat intake, yes, sure it does. But in fact eating more healthy fats while decreasing sugars and grains, allows you to access and burn more stored body fat, retain and even increase lean body mass, and lose weight. While talking about increasing healthy fats often times brings up anxiety and fear about putting on weight, those who know me or work with me, know that I am not a huge fan of weight loss programs. While I have spent a great deal of my career working with eating dysfunction, I have avoided becoming associated with or marketing my own work as a weight loss program. My emphasis has always been on reconnecting with our bodies and our natural cues of fullness and satiety, and on understanding and letting go of our unhealthy behaviors and relationships surrounding food and body image. If weight loss occurs as a result of this work, and it certainly can, then great.
Take home message is … understand that low-fat foods often contain increased carbohydrate content and increased or added sugar, that fat is not the enemy that the processed food companies wants you to believe it is, and that healthy fats not only taste great and keep you feeling satisfied but are essential to our health!