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How to Eat More Healthy Fats

How’s your fat intake these days? 

Are you getting enough? (Probably not a question you hear very often…)

Fat might be the most misunderstood and misrepresented nutrients of all time, often reduced or even cut out completely when people are trying to “shed” body fat or eat “more healthily,” according to that old and erroneous low-fat paradigm.

Given this misdirected fat phobia, healthy fat is one of my favorite topics for discussion with clients. It’s not only essential for our overall health and mood, but it’s downright critical for our metabolism.

Fat matters when you’re trying to lose fat! Let’s talk how-to tips for boosting this essential nutrient and giving your body the healthy fat it needs!

How Much and Why?

Why do we need fat in our diet? Its many functions include: maintaining our hair, skin and nails; nourishing our brain health (our brain is 60% fat!); producing sex and stress hormones; and supporting satiety, energy and overall mood. Fat also comprises our cellular membranes, which transport nutrients into the cells while removing toxins out of them – crucial for our overall gut health and immune system as well as our metabolic efficiency. When we starve our body of essential fat, intentionally or unintentionally, we lose out on all of its benefits and functions for our metabolism.

So, how much fat is enough? I recommend consuming at least 30% of your total calories or food intake for the day from healthy fats to support optimal health. I have many clients who do well with an even higher intake, especially if they have a history of low mood or depression and/or follow a vegetarian diet. Because fat is one of the two energy tanks for our bodies (along with carbohydrates) and a more stable, slower-burning energy, I suggest including a source at each of your meals. That way, not only will your energy be supported throughout the entire day, but good fats will also keep your hunger at bay.

How-To Tips    

Healthy sources of dietary fat can include nuts, seeds and certain oils, as well as the naturally occurring fats in meats and some vegetables. When trying to boost intake of healthy fats, I generally coach with guidelines covering animal fats, nuts and seeds, and oils.

Don’t Skim the Animal Fat

Oftentimes, we try to avoid the naturally occurring fats in animal products by purchasing, for example, only lean cuts of meat or more processed products that have had the natural fats extracted from them. When coaching my clients, I suggest replacing their low fat foods with natural, full fat versions. Below are some tips on how to get those natural fats back in.

  • Swap your meats. If chicken or poultry are your traditional protein foods (both low in fat), rotate in some higher-fat meat sources such as grass-fed steaks and ground beef, pork or even game meats. Grass fed meats are a great source of omega-3 fats in particular. If you usually do 90/10 ground beef, go for the 80/20 to pump up those natural fats in your chili or ground patties.      
  • Do dairy right. Dairy, in its more natural forms, is a higher fat food. Yet, most Americans go for the skimmed or non-fat versions of this food group. If you can tolerate dairy (1 in 3 adults can’t), go for the full fat cottage cheeses, yogurts and liquid milk. Choose organic and especially pastured as often as your budget allows in order to garner the biggest nutritional benefits. You might even notice that glass of milk or yogurt snack fills you up more quickly, allowing you to buy less. Apply the savings to shopping for higher quality dairy products.
  • Keep the yolk. All sorts of healthy nutrients, including fat, live in the yolk of the egg. When preparing your morning breakfast or other foods, be sure to keep the yolk for some extra healthy fat in your meal.
  • Keep calm and eat bacon. Bacon is one of my absolute favorite foods (see Try-it Tuesday bacon). Not only does it both offer high quality protein and natural fat, but it can complement your no-fat or low-fat meat options as well. If you dig chicken, try wrapping some chicken thighs or breasts with a few slices and cook. For a quick snack or breakfast, batch cook several ounces at a time to keep on hand in your fridge. Look for nitrate free options whenever you can.

Non-Animal Sources

In general, these foods nourish our bodies with essential fats and include nuts, seeds and avocados. They serve as great sources to eat alone but also to complement and flavor our other foods. For a complete list, visit chapter 8 in our Eat well. Live well manual.

  • Go Nuts. Add an ounce (about a handful) of nuts and seeds to your day as a snack or to complement your meals. Sprinkling sunflower seeds over a salad, throwing some cashews into the final minute of a stir fry, or combining raw almonds with unsweetened dried fruit for a nice trail mix are some of my favorite ways to use nuts and seeds. I often recommend clients keep a large container of them at work for those days when they forget to plan/pack a snack or just need something to get them to their next meal that won’t sacrifice the day’s good nutritional choices. Be sure to vary your nuts and seeds, and go for raw (or self-sprouted)!
  • Holy Nut Butters. Add a tablespoon or two of almond, cashew or sunflower seed butter to your protein shake or to a piece of fruit for a healthy helping of fat. I often just eat a scoop while preparing dinner if I need something to tide me over, or I’ll add a little bit to a small piece of very dark chocolate (at least 80% cocoa) for an amazing post-dinner dessert. When purchasing, avoid versions with added sugars. You’ll gain the most nutritionally when you vary your nut/seed butter intake each day.  
  • Got Guac? Avocados might be one of the healthiest high-fat foods. Add cubed avocado to your salad or some slices to your chicken breast. Can’t get over the texture?  Purchase a natural guacamole (more points to make your own!) to add to your salad (in place of the dressing) or to use as a raw veggie dip. 
  • Flax it. Flaxseed comes in whole, liquid or ground versions, all of which can be beneficial in pumping up the healthy fat in your meals. Try adding a tablespoon to your gluten free oats, protein shake, stir fry or salad. 

Oils for Flavor and Cooking

Cooking and preparing with oils or butter might be one of the easiest ways to add healthy fats to your diet. Avoid the overly processed vegetable oils (e.g. canola, corn, cottonseed, etc.) and trans fats (hydrogenated oils, margarine) when preparing your meals.

  • Grease it. Remember that bacon you were going to make? Be sure to save the grease (I keep a mason jar on my stove) to use for upcoming meals. That naturally stable saturated fat functions well for higher cooking temperatures (unlike olive oil). Better yet, it’s free! Use it when pan frying your meats, or even add a little bacon flavor to your vegetables.
  • Toss it. Extra virgin olive oil is most suited for flavoring your ready-to-eat foods or at lower cooking temperatures, such as roasting. Make your own healthy salad dressings with some olive oil and vinegar, or low-roast your favorite vegetable with some oil and Celtic salt. Change it up once in a while and try other great, unprocessed flavoring oils, including almond oil, hemp seed oil or sesame in non-heated preparations.
  • Eat butter…not bread. Butter is another unfairly maligned food. When purchasing butter, go for organic or—better yet—pastured. If you’re dairy-sensitive, choose clarified butter known as ghee.   
  • Co-co-nut. Pump up the taste of your meals with coconut oil. Solid at room temperature, a tablespoon over the stove will melt fast and amplify the favor of your foods. Unsweetened coconut flakes can also be a great addition to any meal and works well for a healthier “breading” on fish and poultry!

What other barriers do you come across when trying to maintain a good fat intake? Are you interested in ideas for fitting in more healthy fats? See one of our dietitians today.

In health, Anika Christ – Program Manager of Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.


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