What You Need To Know:
- Despite decades of advice to reduce dietary fat, experts now say it’s essential for good health.
- Fat is vital for brain health, nutrient absorption, and appetite balance.
- Saturated fat, which has been considered a villain among fats, is actually part of a balanced healthy diet.
- Olive oil, avocado, salmon, nuts and seeds are just several foods that provide healthy fats.
By Beth Lipton
If you’ve been hearing that, after decades of constant directives to minimize fat intake, it’s now ok to eat fat, yet you’re still ordering skinny lattes and egg-white omelets, it’s time to reset your thinking, once and for all.
We’d like to set the record straight, so we spoke with experts and got some solid, straightforward advice about how to approach fat.
Why Eating Fat Is So Important
“The thing about fat is that it’s an essential nutrient,” Aynsley Kirshenbaum, MS, creator of the Sugar Purge, tells Clean Plates. “People have this overarching thought that fat is bad. Our bodies absolutely can’t operate without dietary fat. Vilifying any of the macronutrients at face value is really absurd. It’s essential for our bodies.”
Dr. David Perlmutter, the author of Grain Brain, agrees: “Dietary fat has been an integral part of the human diet for more than 2 million years. It is only in the past several decades that we have been told to restrict our fat consumption. And it turns out that this was, and is, a powerfully detrimental recommendation.” Perlmutter adds: “As people have restricted dietary fat, they have made up the calories by eating more and more sugar and carbohydrates and it has become quite clear that this dramatic shift has been responsible for the virtual explosion of chronic degenerative conditions including diabetes, coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer.”
The Role Of Fat
What, specifically, does fat do for your body? Here are just some examples:
- Brain Health: Your brain is about 60 percent fat (by weight), and it requires dietary fats to stay healthy. “The most important organ to pay attention to when choosing fats is your brain. High intakes of omega-3 fats are very protective for the brain, along with the heart benefits,” psychiatrist and nutrition expert Dr. Drew Ramsey tells Clean Plates. “It helps you absorb other important nutrients that help your brain, like lycopene and other fat-soluble nutrients. Healthy traditional diets always include fats. There are no traditional low-fat diets.”
- Nutrient Absorption: Vitamins A, E, D and K are fat soluble, which means you need dietary fat to reap their benefits. These vitamins are essential for many functions, including immunity, bone and cell growth, heart health, protection against cancer and more.
- Cell Growth: “The body requires ample amounts of healthful dietary fat to construct healthy cells,” Dr. Perlmutter says. “The membrane of the cell is, in fact, almost entirely composed of fat, and this fat comes from the diet.”
- Appetite Management: “Higher levels of dietary fat help curb the appetite and are actually associated with reduced weight and better blood sugar control,” Dr. Perlmutter says. Adds Kirshenbaum: “Fat has twice as many calories per gram, and there’s the thought that you have to reduce calories to lose weight. But ‘calories in, calories out’ is way too oversimplified. You can overeat portions, and then you will gain weight, but to restrict calories by avoiding fat isn’t a good strategy. You set yourself up for a lot of problems. For one thing, you’ll be hungry more often, because fat keeps you full longer. Also fat is delicious, so you may be able to restrict the calories and eat a lot but you won’t feel satisfied. You could eat a ton of carrots and feel full on not that many calories, but you won’t really feel satisfied without fat.”
Which Fats Are Healthy?
“Our body needs polyunsaturated fats, it needs monounsaturated fats and it needs saturated fats,” says Kirshenbaum. “You need the mix because they all provide different building blocks to different things.”
“We now also recognize the fundamental importance of saturated fat in the human diet,” says Dr. Perlmutter. “This certainly stands in contradistinction to the years of saturated fat being demonized. New, highly regarded, peer-reviewed research clearly demonstrates that dietary saturated fat, even in ample amounts, does not increase the risk of coronary artery disease. It turns out that saturated fat is fundamental to building and maintaining a healthy brain. Interestingly, an incredible 50 percent of all of the fat in human breast milk is actually saturated fat.”
Great Healthy-Fats Foods
As with all foods, quality matters. “It’s like changing the oil in your car,” Ramsey says. “The motor that runs human consciousness runs hot. Just like you need high-quality oil in your car, your brain needs high-quality fats.” So what types of fat are best?
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling on after cooking and for low-heat cooking
- Avocado and nutrient-rich avocado oil; the oil has a neutral flavor and a higher smoke point than olive oil
- Unrefined coconut oil, which is good for higher-heat cooking
- Oil from wild-caught fatty fish, like salmon, Arctic char, mackerel, and sardines
- Grass-fed butter and ghee; ghee is also good for higher-heat cooking
- Nuts and seeds
- Egg yolks; seek out pastured, organic and/or Certified Humane for the healthiest eggs
- Fats from pastured animals, like grass-fed beef
Notably missing from the list? Vegetable oils. Though they are still recommended by the American Heart Association and others, they carry a high percentage of omega-6 linoleic acid, which is inflammatory and linked to several illnesses including heart disease, cancer, and obesity. Balancing our omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is crucial for good health, and avoiding vegetable oils is a good step toward getting there.
Try this recipe tonight for a perfect healthy fats dinner.
One-Pan Herb-Crusted Roasted Salmon With Roasted Broccoli Steak
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup fresh parsley leaves
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
- ¼ cup almond flour
- 2 salmon fillets (6 ounces each)
- 3 small heads broccoli with the stems attached (about 1 pound total)
- ½ cup sliced almonds, toasted
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the basil, parsley, 4 tablespoons of the oil, lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of the salt, ½ teaspoon of the pepper, and the lemon zest in a blender or food processor. Cover and pulse until smooth. Pour the herb mixture into a bowl and stir in the almond flour.
- Place the salmon fillets in a large roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Pack the herb mixture on the top of each fillet.
- Trim the broccoli stems to about 3 inches below the florets. Slice the broccoli heads lengthwise into 1-inch-thick slabs (two or three slabs per head), cutting from the bottom of the stems through the crown to preserve the shape of the broccoli. Brush both sides of each broccoli slice with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Arrange the broccoli in a single layer in the pan around the salmon.
- Roast the broccoli and salmon for 25 minutes, until the salmon just barely starts to flake when pulled apart with a fork and the broccoli is lightly browned, turning the broccoli once halfway through roasting. Sprinkle the broccoli with the toasted almonds before serving.