Burn Fat with Fat

A once vilified macronutrient, fat is earning the respect it deserves as more and more researchers are discovering its many metabolic boosting benefits. Eating fat can actually help you lose weight and keep it off. But all fats are not created equal, so it is important to choose high-quality sources.

This is good news, especially for folks who fear fat. Some people have been avoiding fat for years, likely compromising their health in the process. Humans are meant to consume fats from food – we need them for a slew of body functions including absorbing and transporting certain nutrients, temperature regulation, insulation for our organs, building blocks for brain and nerve tissue, maintaining healthy cell membranes, optimized immune system, creating and maintaining hormones, eye health, optimal hair, skin, nail health, and of course for energy. Fats also trigger satiety signals and suppress hunger hormones. Very low-fat diets can compromise our basic health as well as our ability to lose weight. Plus they can make us feel sluggish, irritable, and hungry.

For many years, all dietary fat in general was seen as a villain in heart health and weight loss. But recent, more sophisticated scientific research has demonstrated fat’s health benefits. The problem with the old research was that it is difficult to separate out the effects of a high fat diet when things like sugar intake and type of fat isn’t measured. These factors are really important!

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Eating high levels of dietary fat with large amounts of refined carbohydrates or sugar is bad. Interestingly, when you look at the nutrient breakdown of whole foods, you hardly ever come across foods that are both high in fat and high in simple carbohydrates. On the other hand, most engineered junk foods that so many people are addicted to combine the two for maximum flavor appeal. This is what gets people in trouble.

Not only is it true that you ARE what you eat, but you also BURN what you eat. Emphasizing healthful fats, while reducing sugar and total carb intake, favors fat burning, NOT fat storage. In addition, your blood sugar levels will stabilize, producing even more energy. At the same time, the accompanying reduced insulin levels allow an enzyme called Hormone Sensitive Lipase to become activated, which signals fat to be released from storage, broken down, and sent to the cells of muscles and organs for energy burning.

Fats found in whole plant foods don’t seem to have the damaging health effects that earned them such an undeserved bad reputation. Coconuts, avocadoes, olives, nuts, seeds, These foods are high in fiber and protective nutrients to promote optimal health.

Animal fats are a little more controversial, but don’t seem to have as negative effect on heart health as once thought. So egg yolks, fats in meats, fatty fish, and dairy products, consumed in moderation, can be a part of a healthful diet.

Oils, as well, are healthful if consumed in moderation. As oil is refined and processed, it’s important to choose beneficial oils that are high in monounsaturated fats (like olive and avocado oils) and/or omega-3 fats (flax, hemp, walnut, and canola oils) and control portions, because a little bit packs in a lot of calories (120 calories per tablespoon). Highly processed oils like corn, peanut, and soybean should be limited or avoided if possible.

The one fat you should try to avoid at all costs is trans fats, specifically the ones that are added to processed foods. These fats are so bad for you that public health experts are recommending removing them from the food supply altogether. So read food labels carefully, and any with the word “hydrogenated” on the ingredient list will have at least some trans fats (even if the per-serving amount is rounded to zero). Don’t eat these foods.

So why do we say that “fat helps you burn fat”?

Essentially, fat burning is optimized through metabolic efficiency and hormonal balance.

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Fat fills you up

Fats take longer to be broken down by our body, making their digestion and assimilation into our bloodstream very slow. Eating fat can help you feel fuller longer between meals, helping you to fight off hunger pains and cravings, a problem many people experience when dieting. 

Hormonal Balance

Hormones need fat, because it provides the building blocks and structural components their synthesis in the body. Hormones are important for many functions in our body, including telling us when we feel full, when to release muscle building hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone, as well as keeping our thyroid and adrenal glands, both which deals with our metabolism, healthy and functioning. They’re also essential, of course, for reproductive health.

So burn that fat, boost your metabolism, and keep your body in top shape by eating more of the right kinds of fats, such as coconut oil, avocados, organic eggs, nuts and seeds, hummus, dark chocolate and nut butters. But the calories from fats add up fast, so include them in moderation. A serving of fat has between 100 and 200 calories; some examples are a tablespoon of oil, and ounce of nuts or seeds (about 23 almonds is an ounce), a half an avocado, 2 tbsp nut butter, and one cup of almonds. Depending on your calorie needs and the rest of your diet, include 2-6 servings of these types of fats every day. Ideally, again depending on your goals and your body’s needs, you should be getting between 20 and 35% of your calories from high-quality fat.

Need some inspiration?

  • Make hummus (pureed chickpeas) with plenty of tahini (sesame butter) and olive oil
  • Make sauces, dips, and dressings based on nut butters. Think beyond peanut: try almond, cashew, macadamia, and hazelnut.
  • Sprinkle ground hemp, flax, or chia seeds on cereal, soup, salad, veggies, mixed dishes, and grains for a healthful omega-3 boost.
  • Make a stir fry with peanuts and cashews in a sesame-based sauce
  • Use flax oil and vinegar as the base for a salad dressing
  • Add sliced avocado to salads, and mash up a couple every week for a quick dip between meals.
  • Use coconut oil to season sweet potatoes and brown rice.
  • Fry your eggs in olive oil.
  • Add olives to salads, grain dishes, spreads, dips, and sauces.
  • Keep a bag of sunflower or pumpkin seeds with you for a quick, filling snacks when you get hungry between meals.

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by Dina Aronson, MS, RDN

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