At long last the pendulum has swung away from the fear of fat with the help of robust literature to propel it’s direction.
However, as nutrition advice shifts, the details are not always clear.
Where is the active woman’s roadmap for fat? Quality standards are easy to find but timing and amount? Not so easy to sleuth out. And lastly, what balance does fat strike with the other nutrients on the plate?
These are questions I get every day and am always so delighted to have the opportunity to breed confidence as one begins to lean on fat as fuel.
Why is fat so important in the first place?
Fats are the body’s primary energy source. Enough said. While it’s easier to lean on glucose [coming from packaged carbohydrates and such], fat is the more sustainable fuel we can depend on for longer periods of time and to a certain extent, are the PREFERED fuel source to the body.
Beyond energy + satiety, fat also plays a key role in brain function, lustrous skin + hair, consistent body temperature, robust immune function, and absorption of our hormone-balancing fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K.
In a nutshell fat’s resume is as follows:
- Increased satiety
- Mineral absorption [particularly calcium]
- Absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K [essential for skin, bones and hormone balance]
- Anti-viral activity [caprylic acid – found in coconut oil in particular]
- Optimal fuel for your brain and heart
- Conversion of carotene into vitamin A [last time I checked, the most highly esteemed anti-aging cream on the market is derived from vitamin A]
- Building blocks for cell membranes, hormones, and hormone-like substances [libido anyone?]
- Optimal cholesterol levels [counterintuitive- but the research continues to substantiate it- ]
- Inclusion of essential omega 3, 6 and 9 into diet [3 types of fat the body and can only acquire through food]
- Anti-inflammatory relief necessary for brain health and cardiovascular function [particularly from Omega 3 fats]
If you weren’t already convinced fat deserves a place at the table I’m sure you are now.
So let’s move on.
What type of fat is best?
As you can imagine, the fats that keep you mentally sharp, your moods stable, your energy high and waistline trim can all be found in whole, unprocessed [unpackaged] foods.
The fats that promote inflammation and put a toxic load on the body have been processed or refined.
My rule of thumb is this: if a fat is made to last on a shelf, chances are good that it will also stick around longer than you’d like your body.
So let’s break things down with simplicity- driving confident choices at the store.
There are 2 main categories of fat: saturated and unsaturated. They both play vital roles in the body as outlined below:
Quality saturated fat sources:
- Coconut Oil [and MCT oil]
- Palm Oil
- Grass-Fed Dairy
- Gras-Fed Meat
- Pastured Poultry
Avoid: refined saturated fats [as indicated by the word “refined” on the label of a bottle] or saturated fats from unhealthy animals
Quality unsaturated fat sources include:
- Pastured poultry
- Grass Fed Meat
- Egg yolks
- Cod Liver Oil
- Flax Seeds
- Macadamia Nuts
- Olives and olive oil
- Avocado and avocado oil
Avoid: vegetable oils [to include Canola oil] when possible. More often than not the fragility of these oils render them rancid before they hit our plate. Damaged oils are a source of unnecessary inflammation. They are also one of the top sources of omega 6 which has a pro-inflammatory impact on the body.
Quantity and timing does matter:
The quality fat sources are touted from every media outlet but it’s not obvious how much we need to THRIVE. While every body is unique and requirements need to be adjusted on a personal level, my recommendation to achieve the “high octane effect” is by choosing up to 5-7 different fats per day. One appropriate serving of fat is around 10 grams. This leaves an active woman with anywhere between 50-70 grams of high quality fat per day.
The ideal scenario metabolically is to front end load this fat intake into the morning pairing breakfast with 2-4 of those fats and then taper the fat intake off as the day goes on [pairing lunch with 1-2 and dinner with a simple high quality oil of choice to “glue” the meal together].
Why the fat de-crescendo you ask? Here’s why. Fat has such a positive impact on cognition, energy and blood sugar stability, it makes itself most valuable to the body in those early morning hours.
The best way to “jumpstart” your engine is to begin replacing [traditional breakfast] sugars with healthy fats. This also plays beautifully with your cortisol pattern and circadian rhythm as the last thing the body needs in the morning is a boost of blood sugar. Cortisol does a really good job of keeping blood sugar high in the morning whether we eat carbs or not. Eating refined carbs first thing in the morning only gives us a “ticket” to the blood sugar rollercoaster.
But as the day goes on and as blood sugar + cortisol begin to drop [naturally], it’s highly appropriate to bring in a few high quality carbs at lunch and a few more at dinner. This “carb cycling” theory has incredibly restorative properties for adrenal glands but also energy levels.
And here’s the lynchpin, we don’t necessarily need both sources of energy [glucose/carbohydrate AND fat] at the same time. So as carbs start to increase, there is no need to continue eating so much fat. Which is why I recommend lunch be paired with only 1-2 and dinner is the lightest meal of the day with respect to fat.
Last but not least let protein be the common denominator to every meal as it is “wonderwoman” in respect to tissue repair + satiety + hormone regulation.
So what does this look like in practice:
Example breakfast: grass fed butter + eggs + avocado [3 fats coming from grass fed butter + yolk + avocado]
Example lunch: leafy greens + salmon + beans + olive oil based vinaigrette [fat coming from salmon + olive oil]
Example Dinner: italian wedding soup [1 fat coming from the oil used in skillet to cook vegetables for soup]
*Each meal has a protein as least common denominator
Fats are concentrated in the morning and slowly taper off as day progresses
Complex carbs slowly crescendo as the day continues to support cortisol pattern + adrenal function.
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- Bulkeley, W. M. July 17, 2088. “study Fuels Low -Fat vs. Low-Carb Debate.” The Wall Street Journal, D1.
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- Knopp, Robert H., and Barbar M. Retzlaf. 2004. “Saturated Fats Prevent Coronary Artery Disease? An aAmerican Paradox.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 80, no. 5: 1102-3.
- Watkins, B.A. and Seifert, M.F., 1996. Food lipids and bone health. Food Lipids and Health, 101.
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- Simopoulos, A.P., 1991. Omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease and in growth and development. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 54(3), pp.438-463.
- Fischer, Karina, et al. “Carbohydrate to protein ratio in food and cognitive performance in the morning.” Physiology & behavior 75.3 (2002): 411-423.
- Dinneen, S. E. A. N., et al. “Effects of the normal nocturnal rise in cortisol on carbohydrate and fat metabolism in IDDM.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism 268.4 (1995): E595-E603.
- Afaghi, Ahmad, Helen O’Connor, and Chin Moi Chow. “Acute effects of the very low carbohydrate diet on sleep indices.” Nutritional neuroscience 11.4 (2008): 146-154.
- Newbold, H.L., 1988. Reducing the serum cholesterol level with a diet high in animal fat. Southern medical journal, 81(1), pp.61-63.