Low fat diets became quite popular years ago when science found what they thought to be a link between dietary fat intake and body fat accumulation. It seemed intuitive at the time. We’ve come a long way since then, and like everything, the more we explored the topic the more we realized how complex the topic really is. Today there are a few things we think we have figured out:
- Trans fatty acids are artificially produced unsaturated fatty acids that raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol)
- Saturated fatty acids (usually animal fats) used to be thought of as bad for our health because they raise LDL. However, saturated fats are being seen in a more positive light as of late. Research is showing that saturated fats cannot be viewed as a whole, as their effects on cholesterol vary from one acid to another. For example, stearic acid (beef fat) lowers both LDL and HDL. Coconut oil (approximately 85% saturated fat) has a high combination of lauric acid and myristic acid, which seem to raise both LDL and HDL.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids (Omega-9) such as oleic acid (olive oil, canola oil) lower LDL.
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as Linolenic acid (Flax), EPA and DHA (fish oil) have been found to raise HDL. Omega-3 fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (sunflower oil, corn oil) seem to have a pro-inflammatory effect dependent on its ratio to omega-3 fatty acids.
- Try to avoid trans fatty acids and limit omega-6 fatty acids
- Look to include omega-9 and omega-3 fatty acids
- Saturated fats are more or less neutral, but don’t let intake get out of control
Now that you know which are the healthier fats I’m referring to, we should get back to the point, why you may want to add more fat to your diet. Now keep in mind, this doesn't mean add more fat to an already high fat diet. I'm simply spreaking to those who try to avoid fats at all costs. Fat does a few things psychologically that can have some positive impacts on our eating. First, fat usually tastes good in meals. Second, fat digests slowly, thus keeping us feeling full for longer.
Metabolically, chronically increased fat intake will lead to some changes. After a few weeks, your body will be much more efficient at utilizing fat as an energy source throughout the day and during exercise. This has two benefits:
- For those wanting to lose some body fat, a higher fat diet combined with slightly decreased calorie intake makes the transition to the utilization of body fat as an energy source much smoother. It limits the fluctuations in blood sugar and changes in hunger that accompany most weight-loss diets.
- During exercise, increased fat oxidation has a glycogen sparing effect. Consequently, your conditioning may improve. If combined with a subsequent, well-timed carbohydrate load, you may position yourself for the performance of your life.