Many of you may believe that a low-fat diet is the path to maintaining a healthy weight. Or maybe you have turned to the latest fad diet to get rid of that stubborn body fat. After all, you want to trim the fat, right? However, fats aren’t to blame for making you fat! In fact, healthy fats are a vital part of the nutrition that your body needs to feel full and energized.
Healthy fats are actually beneficial to your health. So it’s time to swap the “low-fat” foods for foods that are dense in key nutrients including healthy fats in your diet. The truth is, our bodies need healthy fats to function at their best. I will explain the difference between bad fats and healthy fats later in this article.
While you may have been led to believe that fat is the culprit of your weight gain, it has more to do with the amount of protein in your diet, the ratio of healthy fats to bad fats you eat, and your calorie intake each day. Let’s take a look at the word of healthy fats and how you can achieve your optimal weight.
What is Dietary Fat?
Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) found in food that provide energy for your body, aid in nutrient absorption, and even support healthy blood cholesterol levels.1 There are three types of fats: unsaturated fats, or healthy fats; saturated fats; and trans fats, or bad fats. Saturated fats get a bad reputation and I will talk more about that later. Some saturated fats can actually be healthy fats!
The chemical structure of these dietary fats is made up of a chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. The types of dietary fats differ, however, in the length and shape of the carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms. Small differences in structure make big differences in what are considered healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
Weight Changes are Caused by Calories
Calories are units of energy. Your body needs calories to function. The source of those calories has more to do with weight gain than the amount of calories you consume.
Your body doesn’t discriminate based on which macronutrient it burns for energy. So logically, if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose those pesky pounds.2 This is called a calorie deficit. Maintaining a calorie deficit is unproductive to maintaining a healthy weight if you aren’t eating the right foods!
Do Carbs Make You Fat?
Your body uses carbohydrates for energy, but it has a limited storage capacity. Typically, your body can only store one to two days worth of carbohydrates.3 Coincidently, your body does not want to waste potential sources of energy. So if you’re eating too many carbohydrates, your body turns the excess amount of carbohydrates into fat.
Carbohydrates are artificial energy and your body burns them faster than healthy fats and protein. A high carbohydrate diet will leave you feeling hungry more often because your body is burning the carbohydrates for energy at a faster rate.
If you starve your body of carbohydrates it goes looking for other micronutrients, such as fats and protein, to burn for energy. However, if you aren’t burning more calories than you are eating, even if you’re eating more healthy fats and protein, it will cause you to gain weight. 4
Some people find it easier to maintain a calorie deficit with a diet with a high level of healthy fats, such as the keto diet. I will go into more detail about high fat diets later in this article.
One of the best practices for weight loss is to balance your macronutrients in a way that leaves you feeling full and satisfied, while still maintaining a calorie deficit.5 You will also want to make sure that the sources of your macronutrients are organic and toxin-free. Ingesting pesticides and other toxins can get in the way of the health benefits you are trying to attain by eating a balanced diet, so it’s important to source your food carefully.
Healthy Fats vs. Bad Fats
A fatty acid is either considered a healthy fat or a bad fat. Generally speaking, saturated fats are unhealthy and unsaturated fats are healthy fats. The difference between the two comes down to how your body responds to the presence of these fats in yourour diets.
Let’s dive into the world of fats so you know the difference between healthy fats you should enjoy in moderation and bad fats you should avoid to maintain a healthy weight and achieve optimal health.
There are two types of healthy unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Both are healthy fats that are easy to include in your diet. There is evidence that suggests healthy fats such as unsaturated fats are correlated with improved cholesterol levels and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. 6
Monounsaturated fats are a type of healthy fats that provide nutrients to help and maintain your body’s cells.7 Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, safflower oil, and sesame oil are plant-based oils with a high level of monounsaturated fat. Other good sources include avocados, nut butter (except peanut butter), and several nuts and seeds.
One quick note about safflower oil. Safflower oil is 90% linoleic acid and oliec acid, which are unsaturated fats and making it a “healthy fat.” However, because of high concentrations of omega-6 and refined fats, it is not autoimmune protocol compliant and can cause inflammation.
If you are in the first part of The Myers Way®, nuts are not recommended. You can reintroduce them slowly and see how you react during the reintroduction phase and on the low FODMAPS diet, as well as on a keto or Paleo diet.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in sunflower, corn, soybean and flaxseed oils, walnuts, fish, and canola oil. Soy and corn are inflammatory foods and should be avoided.
Omega 3 fats are an important type of polyunsaturated fat. Your body does not produce these fats on their own, so it’s important to get them from food such as wild-caught salmon or through supplements.
Complete Omega-3 Softgels are the purest, highest-potency fish oil supplement available on the market today. They contain 1,050mg of Omega-3 Fatty Acids to support your body’s healthy inflammatory response.
Most saturated fats are found in animal products and foods. Saturated fats get a bad reputation because they are often associated with that fast-food cheeseburger or fatty meats like dark-meat chicken, fatty cuts of beef, and pork. Eating too much saturated fat can increase blood cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
Saturated fats, including trans fats, are linked to a variety of negative effects on health such as an increase in bad cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease. However, a study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found no evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with heart disease.8
Then there are trans fats, a type of saturated fat considered to be the worst fat for your body. Foods containing trans fat include, partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, including butter, margarine, fried foods, and processed snacks. Trans fat can raise LDL (bad) cholesterol, and suppress HDL (good) cholesterol levels, or healthy cholesterol, leading to a higher risk of heart disease.
Trans fats make us fatter and can cause inflammation, which is a part of autoimmune disease. That’s why I recommend a nutrient dense diet rich in organic foods and eliminating processed foods altogether.
A high-fat diet has grown popular with people trying to lose weight. A low-carb, high-fat diet involves reducing the number of carbohydrates you consume and replacing them with healthy fats for your body to use for energy.
You’re probably aware of the ketogenic, or “keto” diet. This is one of the more popular high-fat diets today that incorporates a high number of healthy fats. I personally used keto as a part of my weight loss strategy after a variety of circumstances, such as injuries and illness, left me about 15 pounds heavier than my optimum weight. Keto is a perfect way to feel full and satiated while still burning unwanted fat.
The Keto Diet
Maybe you’ve heard the keto diet has something to do with fats and your liver. A ketogenic diet focuses on putting your body into a state called ketosis. In ketosis, your liver processes fats to generate energy for your body. So it’s important to support your liver function when on a keto diet.
The keto diet does this by depriving your body of glucose. It achieves this by focusing on high- healthy fat, low-carb foods so that your liver creates an alternative fuel called ketones.
When these ketones accumulate in your blood to a level of 0.5 to 3.0 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), you’re in ketosis.9 Testing your blood sugar and ketone levels is the only sure way to work out exactly what level of ketosis you’re in.
Keto Diet Foods
If you’re on the keto diet, you are focusing on healthy fats and staying away from all whole and refined grains. You’ll skip starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and winter squash. You’ll also pass on the majority of fruit and fruit juices, legumes, and alcoholic drinks. Typical foods that are acceptable on the keto diet include:
- Fish, seafood, and organ meats
- Berries in small portions
- Non-starchy vegetables in abundance, such as broccoli, onions, garlic, mushrooms, cucumber, celery, summer squash, leafy greens (kale, Swiss chard, collards, spinach, bok choy, and lettuces)
- Healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, and butter or ghee
- Butter and hard cheeses that contain less lactose sugar than full-fat milk and cream
- Herbs, spices, cocoa powder, unsweetened tea, coffee, vinegar, and mustard
Benefits and Side Effects of The Keto Diet
Some researchers surmise that ketones are a more efficient fuel than glucose. They may also produce fewer free radicals in their breakdown. This may result in mental benefits such as:
- Improved concentration
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Brain changes that help depression, bipolar disorder, and dementia9
These theories are supported by anecdotal evidence and more research needs to be done. However, many people who have tried the diet report:
- Less lethargy
- Increased alertness
- Greater mental clarity, and sharpness
- Quicker thinking
- Improved mood
- Increased productivity
- Less need for sleep10
The keto diet comes with its own sets of risks. It has been suggested that a ketogenic diet can negatively affect your gut bacteria due to a lack of fiber.11 Keto can cause your blood and urine to become more acidic, leading to an increased level of calcium in your urine, or hypercalcemia.12 Complications of hypercalcemia include:13
- Kidney stones
- Kidney failure
- Nervous system problems
- Heart arrhythmia
With more dietary choices than ever, it can be difficult to decide which diet is best for you to maintain a healthy weight. The truth is, no one diet is a size-fits-all weight loss.
If you are trying to lose weight, it is important to use a balanced approach and make sure that you are giving your body the nutrition it needs. Thankfully, eating more healthy fats is easy once you learn how to incorporate the right foods into your balanced diet.
For more information, Mike Mutzel discusses fat and gut hormones from a clinical nutrition perspective.
- Dietary fats: Know which types to choose. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
- Calories in, calories out. Scott Howell, Richard Kones. PubMed. 2017.
- How the Body Uses Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats. Erika Gebel, PhD. Diabetes Forecast. 2011.
- Does my body need fats?. American Heart Association. 2017.
- Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: a systematic review. Dena M Bravata, Lisa Sanders, Jane Huang, Harlan M Krumholz, Ingram Olkin, Christopher D Gardner, Dawn M Bravata. PubMed. 2003.
- Reduction in Saturated Fat Intake for Cardiovascular Disease. Lee Hooper, Nicole Martin, Oluseyi F Jimoh, Christian Kirk, Eve Foster, Asmaa S Abdelhamid. Cochrane Library. 2021.
- Monounsaturated Fat. American Heart Association. 2014.
- Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. Patty W Siri-Tarino, Qi Sun, Frank B Hu, Ronald M Krauss. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010.
- Differences between ketosis and ketoacidosis. Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI . Medical News Today. 2019.
- Are carbohydrates holding us back from our true potential? Exploring the possibilities of a ketogenic diet. Boston University. 2013.
- Ketogenic Diet and Microbiota: Friends or Enemies?. Antonio Paoli, Laura Mancin, Antonino Bianco, Ewan Thomas, João Felipe Mota, and Fabio Piccini. NCBI. 2019.
- Diet-Induced Low-Grade Metabolic Acidosis and Clinical Outcomes: A Review. Renata Alves Carnauba, Ana Beatriz Baptistella, Valéria Paschoal, and Gilberti Helena Hübscher. NCBI. 2017.
- Hypercalcemia. Mayo Clinic. 2020.