The traditional view that you need a low fat diet in order to lose weight is still something many people cling to. The good news is that that’s simply not the case and in fact cutting the fat may actually work against you. A review by researchers from Harvard back in 2007 showed that overall calories are more important and that fat intake can influence how you feel so eating moderate amounts of fat can actually help you to lose weight without feeling like you’re deprived.
Here are some reasons why fat is so important:
#1 Fill ’em up
Fat helps to keep you feeling full. When you eat fat it triggers the release of a hormone (cholecytokinin) which actually slows down how fast the stomach releases food in to the intestines. So you will feel fuller for longer which means that you need less food to feel satisfied than with a low fat diet.
#2 Fat is essential
There are certain types of fat which the body needs to function and these are only available from your diet – your body can’t make them. These essential fats such as omega-3 and 6s are vital for proper cell function. Omega-6s are quite easy to get from our diet (e.g. from oils, nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, wheat etc) but omega-3s are harder to come by. If you’re choosing low-fat food options you may find you’re not getting enough of these essential fatty acids. Great sources of omega-3 include oily fish (like mackerel, salmon etc), flax seed (linseed), chia seeds, walnuts and soya beans). So make sure you include all these “good” fats to keep your brain, heart and cells all functioning optimally. If you don’t feel you’re able to get enough in your diet then take a high quality supplement (this is the one I take).
#3 Get your vitamins
As well as fat itself being an essential nutrient for your body, it also helps you to absorb certain vitamins from the food you eat. Vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E and K and a range of carotenoids (found in leafy greens and salads) can only be absorbed by the body if we’re also taking in fats with them. They dissolve in the fat and can then be transported through the intestine wall in to the bloodstream. So if you’re eating a very low fat diet you may find yourself deficient in these crucial vitamins. This isn’t a free pass to gorge on doughnuts though – you only need a small amount of fat to facilitate vitamin absorption so adding 5 – 10 nuts to your meals or a little avocado to your salad will do it. If you’re taking a multivitamin supplement then eat a couple of almonds or other nuts with it just to ensure those vitamins aren’t being wasted.
#4 Balance those blood sugars
After you eat the levels of sugar in your blood rise and trigger the release of insulin which then acts to regulate those blood sugars and help them get used by the body. If you’re eating a diet high in sugar then this continual release of insulin and intake of sugar can cause a rollercoaster of sugar highs and lows and can affect your energy levels, mood and will make you crave more sugary foods. Fats don’t directly influence blood sugar levels themselves but studies in the Journal of Nutrition have shown that adding 5 – 30g of fat to an intake of pure sugar (glucose) can reduce the response to that sugar by the body. Protein has an even greater effect than fat (3 times greater) so by combining fat and protein with your carbohydrates you can help to reduce those sugar highs and lows. Plus by including fats or protein with your carbs you are reducing the amount of sugar you’re consuming which will also help. So instead of snacking on sweets or just fruit have some nuts with it for example. Ensure your meals always contain a balance of fat, protein and carbs too to keep those blood sugar levels more balanced throughout the day.
#5 You burn more fat
Low fat diets actually train your body to become really good at burning carbohydrates rather than burning fat so they can hinder fat loss. Low fat diets reduce the amount of adipokines released from your fat cells. Adipokines, specifically adiponectin, are hormones which enhance your metabolism and increase the rate at which fat is broken down. They also help to reduce your appetite too. So on a low fat diet you may actually end up burning less fat and end up hungrier which is likely to lead to overeating anyway.
#6 It tastes good!
Fat tastes good – its one of the things that make food so appealing. Its the natural thing that makes the texture of food creamy, that makes it smell good, that gives food that lovely mouth-feel. Why would you want to deprive yourself of that? Eating should be a pleasant experience – even when you’re trying to lose weight or eat more healthily. When you remove the fat often it has to be substituted with refined sugars, salt, chemical flavour enhancers and carb-based substitutes which try to mimic the texture and taste of fat. So you’re far better off sticking to real fat but just having less of it.
Having said all this,it is not a free pass to eat lots of fatty foods.Yes fats are good for you but they are high in calories and if you’re trying to lose weight then those calories can quickly add up so you do need to be mindful of how much of these foods you’re eating. Aim for approx 30% of your meal to be from fats. Of course not all fats are created equal and some fats are better than others (check out my other article on coconut oil here). Plant based fats tend to be the healthiest types of fats. So try to include some of these in your diet:
- Nuts and nut butter
- Seeds (including flax seed and chia)
- olive oil
- Coconut oil
When it comes to animal fats go for things like:
- Oily fish (mackerel, salmon, sardines etc)
- Lean poultry and red meat
Please remember, I am not a medical Dr and even if I was the medical and/or nutritional information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your GP or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this site.