In years past I used to eat a lot of low-fat foods, I was fat-phobic. My grocery cart was filled with low-fat yogurt, spray butter, artificial sweeteners and low-calorie microwave meals. I ate boring egg-white omelets and always passed on the butter. I was always hungry, if not HANGRY, had serious cravings and my digestion was impaired. I thought about food all the time and always had snacks with me in case I couldn’t make it to the next meal. In hind sight I now realize these foods were depriving my body of nutrients it desperately needed. It my attempt to achieve or maintain whatever ideal body type I had decided was “healthy” for me, I was actually doing more harm than good. I have recently started experimenting with a higher fat, lower carb (ketogenic) approach to eating. Over the past few months I have noticed increase energy, more stable blood sugar (no more hangry feelings) and the ability to go longer between meals. I am also much more focused, less stressed and just feel HAPPY in general. I am having a regular menstrual cycle (TMI?) and blood tests have shown my hormone levels are balanced! In addition, my meals are so much more tasty! Let’s be honest, those microwave meals are not that good.
If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts, you’ve heard me state the importance of including “good” or “healthy” fats in your diet. According to Leanne Vogel (author of the Keto Diet) healthy fats play an important role in many of our bodily systems including the following functions:
- fats help you to absorb certain nutrients
- strengthen bones,
- strengthen your immune system,
- encourage better body composition (balance of lean muscle and body fat)
- reduce inflammation
- reduce the risk of certain disorders like depression and anxiety
- improves skin and eye health
- provide your body with fuel,
- assist in optimum brain, heart and nerve function,
- help you to feel satiated after a meal,
- support thyroid function,
- and play a big role in healthy hormone function
Bad fats cause the following problems:
- create free radicals which damage and age cells,
- remove vitamins and minerals from the body,
- cause inflammation,
- damage DNA
- suppress immune function,
- increases effects of aging,
- negatively affects the body’s ability to produce energy,
- negatively affects the gut microflora (gut bacteria)
- increases the risk of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s,
- causes headaches,
- and negatively affects memory.
What exactly are good or healthy fats? Without getting into any of the science-y information about the chemical structure of a fat molecule, an oversimplified definition of a “healthy fat” is a source of fat that does not cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the result of your immune system fighting off a real or perceived invader. This can be a good thing in an acute situation where there is actually something to be addressed like an infection or injury. The problems, however, come when there is a chronic level of low-grade systemic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation can lead to many problems such as weight gain, skin problems, autoimmune diseases and digestive issues among other things.
To make things a bit more complicated, when we looks at cooking fats, in order to address whether it is good or bad, we must look at how it is being used. For example, some healthy fats are great when eaten cold, but become bad (rancid) when they are exposed to light or heat. Due to their chemical structure, some fats are more fragile and can become damaged more easily when cooked at high heat. As a rule of thumb, if a fat source is solid at room temperature (typically around 68* F) it is safe for heat (think coconut oil, ghee, butter and lard), if its liquid at room temperature, it should not be used to cook with but is great for a topping or used in a dressing (think olive oil, sesame oil, nut oils and avocado oil).
New research has shown many benefits to a higher fat, lower carbohydrate diet. One of the main benefits (aside from supporting your bodily functions already mentioned above) is a more stable blood sugar level and healthy insulin response which lowers the risk for many disease processes.
Fats I tend to avoid at all times are highly processed vegetable oils (canola, corn, soybean, grapeseed, sunflower and safflower oil). Due to the process in which these oils are extracted and then refined, bleached and deodorized, they are already damaged by the time they reach the bottle, long before they ever make it to our plates. They oxidize easily when exposed to light, air or heat; and when consumed cause inflammation in the body. For more information specific to canola oil, check out this blog post by Diane Sanfilippo. I also avoid anything man-made such as margarine, hydrogenated or partially hydrogentated oils, and any trans fats.
Now that you know what to avoid, and why…here are some ideas of what kinds of fats you should be eating! My favorite brands are linked below:
Coconut/Coconut oil/Coconut Milk –
Coconut is rich is lauric acid, a medium chain triglyceride that boosts the immune system by battling bacteria, increases your energy and helps you build muscle. You can top yogurt or berries with coconut flakes, add the flakes to your trail mix or granola recipe or use it as a breading for chicken or seafood. Coconut oil is great for pan frying or sautéing, oven roasting vegetables and can be added into smoothies or baking dishes. Check out my recipe for Chocolate Coconut Cookies. Coconut milk is my go to instead of creamer in my morning coffee. You can use it almost anywhere you would use milk or other liquid dairy alternatives. As a side note, coconut oil also makes a great eye makeup remover! My favorite *new* coconut based food is a yogurt called Coyo! It is great for those (like me) who cannot tolerate dairy well. I get mine at Whole Foods.
Avocados are rich in oleic acid which can help curb your appetite. Avocados are delicious all on their own, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. If that’s not your thing, you could try topping your salad with avocado, adding some to your smoothie for a really creamy texture, spreading some on top of your toast at breakfast or making guacamole. You can also use avocado in a chicken, tuna or egg salad in addition to, or in place of your mayo. Avocado oil can be used in the same manner as olive oil.
Nuts & Seed/Nut Butters* –
The polyunsaturated fats in nuts activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. Sprinkle some nuts on your salad or add some to your morning yogurt or oatmeal. I also love to add some nuts to the pan when my veggies are done sautéing to toast them up a bit. It adds so much flavor and a lot of crunch! Nut butters are great on some gluten-free toast or along side fruit like a crisp apple. I also still love a childhood favorite of celery with nut butter and chia seeds. I love Artisana brand Cashew, Walnut and Pecan butters. These single serving packs are also great to stash away in your bag for a quick snack on the go.
*When purchasing nut butters, be careful to look at the ingredients and make sure there aren’t any rancid oils added in to the nuts.
Eggs, Meat and Seafood
Eggs (the yolks) contain choline which attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver. If it’s possible in your area, try to buy from a local vendor. When you buy your eggs and meat at your local farmers market you get the opportunity to ask questions about how the animals are treated and what they are fed to ensure you are supporting a farmer that treats their animals well. Opt for fattier cuts of meat like chicken legs or thighs as opposed to chicken breast as they are much more nutrient dense, bonus if you can get bone-in, skin-on! Check out my recipe here for Crispy Skin Chicken Thighs! For beef, you will want to look for grass-fed varieties. Red meat provides us with conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) which has been shown to improve heart health, and reduce belly fat! We’ve also been eating a lot of bacon! You can add bacon to just about anything. For seafood we like to include fatty fish like salmon into our rotation a few times a week.
Finding mayo without any rancid oils can be challenging! Most are made with canola oil. One brand I really like is Primal Kitchen (both the regular and chipotle lime flavors are AMAZING!). Primal kitchens uses avocado oil in their mayo. Another avocado oil based mayo is Sir Kensington’s. The best uses for mayo are ones you probably already know. You could make chicken, tuna or egg salad for a great lunch time meal that you can make in a large batch and use over several days. You can also add mayo to your homemade salad dressing for a creamier texture. Top burgers with mayo, make deviled eggs, potato salad, BLTs or lobster rolls. There are so many opportunities to add some healthy mayo into your diet!
Full Fat Dairy
The protein in full-fat dairy can help you to feel satiated and able to go longer between meals. Try to find local varieties if possible and opt for organic milk if you can. Add full fat milk to your smoothies, top dinner or your salad with some grated cheese or just slice it up as a snack! You can also find some delicious full fat yogurt; just look for brands without any added sugar. Your local farmers market is a great place to find high quality full fat dairy!
Olive oil is packed with cancer-fighting polyphenols as well as heart strengthening oleic acid. If you’ve been following along on instagram, you know I use olive oil a lot! My favorite brand is Kasandrino’s Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil for a couple of reasons: It is cold pressed with only mechanical pressing which means it is not damaged by the time it gets into the bottle. Oh and speaking of the bottle, the design is intentional to keep the oil from being exposed to too much light. All this care leads to an incredibly fresh, high quality olive oil with a taste that stands out. I mainly use olive oil as, or in salad dressing, in sauces or drizzled over vegetables after they are done roasting in the oven. You can also use olive oil in place of butter in many instances. Olives are a great on the go snack. I like to get the pitted variety because they are less work! We like to add olives to salads, sandwiches, omelets, tacos or anywhere else a little saltiness is needed. Check out this recipe for my (no pasta) salad!
Let’s face it, sometimes we just need a treat! Why not choose something that will not only actually taste good, but also promotes good health? Here are some of my favorite high fat treats:
- 85% or higher cocoa dark chocolate bars. The cocoa butter in dark chocolate contains stearic acid which slows digestion. Dark chocolate is also rich in antioxidants which help fight off free-radicals and improves blood flow to the brain. I love Eating Evolved’s 100% Cocoa Midnight Coconut
- Eating Evolved Keto Cups, or Roasted Coconut Butter! I could eat this stuff by the spoonful… and when I say “could” I mean “do.”
Hungry for more? check out this recipe for Kale Cobb Salad from Uproot Kitchen: