Easy ways to get more healthy fats in your diet throughout the day
It’s pretty common for people to ask, “How do I cut the fat from my diet?” It’s far less common to ask, “How do I get more good fat into my diet?” Nonetheless, the latter question is the smarter one. Let me explain.
There are more misconceptions running around about “good” fat and “bad” fat than there are about witchcraft, hypnosis, and Justin Bieber’s romantic life combined. Expert opinions seem to be constantly in flux (first eggs were bad, then they were good, first butter was terrible, now margarine is). How much fat we should eat (and which kinds) are the subject of debate.
Fat comes in three basic categories—saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. (There’s also a fourth kind of fat known as trans-fat, a kind of Franken-fat that we’ll deal with in a moment.)
Conventional advice is to dump all saturated and trans-fats and load up on the vegetable oils, omega-3s, and olive oil. However, though saturated fat has a terrible reputation, the fact is it’s not nearly as “bad” a fat as everyone thinks. It’s actually kind of neutral. A paper in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition recently questioned the demonization of saturated fat, and in 2010 a major meta-analysis published in the same journal showed that saturated fat consumption had exactly zero correlation with either coronary heart disease, stroke, or healthy cell membranes. While no one is saying you should eat lard out of the jar, we’ve probably been way too overzealous in removing every bit of saturated fat from our diet. The trick is to consume healthy saturated fat from real, whole food sources like eggs and coconut. (More on how to do that in a moment.)
The conventional wisdom is actually right on trans-fats—at least the man-made kind. They should be banned from your diet, period. They’re found in virtually all packaged foods, cakes, crackers, and most margarines. Read the ingredients, and if it says “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oil, it contains trans-fats, even if the label says “zero trans-fats.” (Why? Don’t ask. It’s a legal loophole, too long to explain here!). The exception to the zero tolerance rule on trans-fats is the one kind that’s “natural”—CLA. This trans-fat is made in the bodies of cows that graze on pasture (grass-fed) and actually has anti-cancer and anti-obesity activity.
Two other types of fat about which the conventional wisdom is right are monounsaturated fat (also known as omega-9s) and omega-3s. The best-known source of monounsaturated fat is olive oil, but it’s also found in nuts (macadamia nuts, almonds, pecans, cashews, and pistachio nuts) and avocados. There are three distinct omega-3 fats, two of which (EPA and DHA) are found primarily in cold-water fish like wild salmon, while the third (ALA) is found in plant sources like flaxseed and flaxseed oil, as well as hemp and chia seeds.
Where the conventional advice goes wildly wrong is in the constant admonition to consume more vegetable oils, and here’s why. Vegetable oils like corn, safflower, and canola are loaded with omega-6s (namely LA or linoleic acid). These oils are used in virtually every processed or packaged food made. Restaurants switched from the traditional lard to the supposedly “healthier” vegetable oils in the second half of the 20th century, and they now use these oils almost exclusively for frying and cooking. This is a problem for the following reason:
Omega-3s are the “parent” molecule for anti-inflammatory hormones in the body called prostaglandin series 1 and series 3. Omega-6s on the other hand, are the parent molecules for the inflammatory hormones (prostaglandins series 2). You actually need both types—inflammatory and anti-inflammatory—but the two hormone “factories” need to be in balance, like a seesaw, for optimal health. The best ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 consumption is 1:1, or thereabouts. However, the typical western diet has a ratio of 20:1. That means we are “over funding” our body’s inflammation army and “under funding” the anti-inflammatory one. (No wonder inflammation is now at the core of every degenerative disease known to humans!)
So while it’s absolutely great to get more omega-3s, to get the full benefit of omega-3s you’ll also want to cut back on your omega-6s so your diet is closer to the ideal ratio of 1:1. (It’s not that omega-6 is bad—it’s that we consume way too much of it!) Watch your intake of the usual suspects like corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and soybean oil and follow the recommendations below to get more omega-3s in your diet.
Here are 10 easy ways to get more good fat in your diet.
1. Eat sardines. This “health food in a can” is easy to find anywhere, portable, and goes well with so many things— empty a can over a green salad and you’ve got a superb high-protein meal. One 3-ounce can contains 840 mg of combined EPA-DHA (the most studied omega-3s). That’s nearly a gram.
2. Get tuna in olive oil, not water. While many people buy tuna in water to avoid the fat (and calories), avoiding the fat means losing a bit of the omega-3s in the tuna. Better to get tuna packed in olive oil—yes, there are a few more calories but it tastes way better, preserves more of the omega-3s, and as an added bonus, gives you some heart-healthy monounsaturated fat to boot.
3. Take fish oil supplements. With all the choices available today, there’s no reason to ever avoid fish oil supplements because of the taste, consistency, or “repeating” problem (burps). Omega oils come in purified capsules and liquids (so there’s no worry of contaminants such as mercury) and offer high absorbability. They come in an assortment of delicious flavors, and in both fish oil, algae, and flaxseed oil versions (the latter two are ideal for vegetarians). Use daily!
4. Use extra virgin olive oil only. There are two great things about olive oil—the monounsaturated fat and the olive phenols. Phenols are delicate plant compounds that have extraordinary health benefits—and they are pretty much destroyed by high heat. Extra virgin olive oil is pressed without the use of chemicals or high heat so the phenols aren’t destroyed by processing.
5. USE REAL BUTTER ON YOUR VEGGIES. Despite what you’ve heard, butter is anything but a “bad” fat. Most of the fat in butter is actually monounsaturated (also found in olive oil and nuts), and the part that is saturated is no big deal. Try to find organic butter so there’s no residue of the antibiotics, steroids, and hormones found in factory-farmed cows. My favorite way to use it: Make a huge plate of steamed or stir-fried veggies and season with melted butter and seasoning.
6. Stop using non-fat yogurt. In fact, stop using non-fat anything. The non-fat versions are invariably loaded with sugar and all you’re doing is eliminating a macronutrient that helps keep you full and satiated. Sure you save a few calories, but better to save them by cutting out sugar and desserts! Enjoy full (or low-) fat versions of foods like yogurt and milk. New research actually shows that dairy fat has some excellent health benefits, including improved fertility among women.
7. Eat the whole egg. Egg-white omelets are so 1980s—not to mention completely unnecessary. The yolk of the egg contains great fat, but more importantly, nutrients like choline (for the brain) and lutein and zeaxanthin (for the eyes). What’s more, the whole carotenoid family (beta-carotene, etc.) is far better absorbed with fat, one reason why hard-boiled eggs on a spinach salad make so much sense. Bodybuilders have been fortifying their protein shakes
with whole (raw) eggs since bodybuilding began. And if you use free-range eggs, the risk of salmonella is so small that
8. Try Coconut oil. This superfood used to be out of favor for its saturated fat content, but now even mainstream experts like Dr. Oz endorse it. Coconut oil contains fatty acids that are anti-viral and anti-microbial, making it great for the immune system. The fats in coconut oil are known as MCTs (medium chain triglycerides), which tend to be burned for energy (as opposed to stored around your hips and posterior). It’s also one of the best oils for stir-frying. Try using it to stir-fry veggies, or mix with butter or olive oil for scrambled eggs. You can also add a spoonful to a smoothie—just be aware that it adds an extra 100 calories.
9 Have an Avocado Snack. I’ll frequently cut an avocado in half and have it for a snack or mini-meal. (Sometimes I’ll even eat the whole avocado). It’s not as high-calorie as you might think (about 200 calories for a whole avocado), and contains not only monounsaturated fat, but a decent helping of fiber as well.
10. Sprinkle flaxmeal on everything. Ground flaxseed is an easy and ideal way to get more omegas. Just sprinkle on cooked veggies or a tossed salad, or add to any smoothie.
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