Q: I have repeatedly avoided fat in my diet to try to control my weight. Unfortunately, I am hungrier and heavier than ever, and I have also developed dry, wrinkly skin, thyroid issues, depression, constipation, and inflamed, achy joints. I am completely rethinking the low-fat strategy, but I get queasy after a fatty meal and don't think I digest fat well. Can you give me the real scoop on the relationship between fats, weight loss, digestion, and health? -Megan S., Sacramento
A: You're on the right track to be rethinking the low-fat strategy! Low-fat guidelines were recommended to all Americans in 1977, and many
nutrition organizations continue to advocate a low-fat diet. But that advice has led people astray into a heavier and sicker state than ever.
The research is not there to support a low-fat diet for long-term weight loss, and a low-fat diet appears to have little to no effect on cardiovascular disease in the long term. In fact, the sheer lack of research supporting a low-fat diet is so strong that a 2014 Time magazine cover story deemed the low-fat diet a failed experiment.
In many cases, a low-fat diet leads to eating high-sugar, high-carb foods that promote weight gain and insulin-related health problems such as type 2 diabetes, which has dramatically increased over the past three decades. In addition, a low-fat diet usually doesn't provide enough healthy fats, which are crucial to health because they govern metabolism, stress, hunger, and sex hormones, among other things.
Make Fat Your Friend
The key to making fat your best friend for weight loss and improved health is to include the right fats in your diet and make sure you're digesting them properly, says nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, long-time fat advocate and author of the new e-book Eat Fat, Lose Weight. The right fats-what Gittleman calls "Smart Fats"-are a healthy mix of omega-3,
omega-6, monounsaturated, and saturated fats, along with the lesser-known omega-7. Examples of each type of fat are:
- Omega-3: Wild-caught fatty fish, omega-3 fish oil capsules, cold-milled flax seeds, and high-lignan flax oil.
- Omega-6: Hemp seeds and hemp oil; spirulina; and supplements of ready-made gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) from black currant seed, borage, or evening primrose oils.
- Omega-7: Macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil; sea buckthorn seed oil in liquid form or softgels; and anchovies or purified anchovy oil.
- Monounsaturated: Olives and olive oil; avocados and avocado oil; macadamia nuts and macadamia nut oil.
- Saturated: Organic pastured butter, ghee, coconut oil, and organic grass-fed meats.
The more Smart Fats you eat, the faster you will lose weight; repair your stress, hunger, and sex hormones; restore your cell membranes from head to toe; and insure soft, wrinkle-free skin, says Gittleman.
The Importance of Digesting Fats
In order to gain the full benefits of healthy fats, you have to digest them properly. In fact, if you don't digest them well, adding more good fats into your diet can actually leave your body in even worse shape.
Common signs of poor fat digestion include a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms including constipation, bloating, nausea, skin breakouts, joint aches and pains, varicose veins, infection, and poor immunity.
To improve fat digestion and safely eliminate and excrete toxins from your system, take steps to boost your body's production of bile-an emulsifier that breaks down fats into small particles so that your intestines can absorb them. Eat more beets, which thin out and move bile, as well as more artichokes, which boost the production of bile and support overall liver function. Also drink hot water with lemon first thing in the morning, and take lecithin from non-GMO soy or sunflower seeds.
If you have had your gallbladder removed, Gittleman recommends taking an ox bile supplement (also known as bile salts) to mimic your body's natural output of bile. If your gallbladder is acting up, try following an elimination diet, especially one that eschews eggs, pork, and onions.
Fatten Up Your Low-Fat Diet
If you've been avoiding fats, it's important to slowly add good fats back into your diet to give your gallbladder time to adjust.
First, banish all hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated fats, such as margarine, shortening, and soybean oil, as well as foods that contain them-chips, cookies, crackers, etc. Also eliminate cottonseed oil, canola oil, vegetable oils, butter substitutes, and cooking sprays.
Then, try these beginning tips from Eat Fat, Lose Weight. Gradually work up to 1-4 Tbs. of Smart Fats per meal.
- Get coconut-y. Start with 2 tsp. of coconut oil in smoothies or your morning coffee. Coconut oil does not require bile to break it down.
- Butter things up. Top veggies and non-GMO popcorn with organic pastured butter.
- Start using ghee or avocado oil for your higher-heat cooking or frying.
- Use avocado as a spread instead of mayonnaise.
- Experiment with omega-rich hemp seed oil on salads, especially if you're not a flax oil lover. Always store it in the fridge and use it up quickly.
- Enjoy organic full-fat dairy products such as plain Greek yogurt or cream combined with fruits as a refreshing dessert. If dairy is a no-no, try coconut yogurt or coconut cream. Top either with toasted flax, chia, or shredded unsweetened coconut for a boost of fiber and extra Smart Fats.
- Find smart ways to use nuts. Toss pine nuts in tomato sauces; make a breading for chicken and fish out of toasted crushed pistachios, pecans, or walnuts; and use ground flax seeds for bread crumbs and as an egg substitute for recipes.