As I wrote in this last post, processed foods like bread, chips, cookies, etc. are calorically dense but nutritionally poor. Additionally, because they are filled with sugar this is what your body starts running on when you eat these foods (and it’s why you experience the “crash” after eating them).
I don’t eat like that anymore. So where am I getting my calories? Fat.
Sweeeeet, luscious, fat. Fat is a much denser energy source than carbohydrate. 1 gram of fat = 9 calories vs. 4 calories for 1 gram of carbohydrate. (Your body can only store enough glycogen (from carbs) to fuel an 90 minute cardio sesh but can store enough fat to run 20 marathons! See? Dense, yo.)
Why is this a good thing? Well firstly, once you’re “fat-adapted” (as Melissa and Dallas Hartwig like to say) you can go between meals without feeling the need to snack as frequently. You can also start losing the extra fat you have because you’re not constantly running off sugar.
Sounds good to me!
But hold on. Not all fat is created equal.
There are several flavors of fat. Let’s break them down and assess which provide optimal nutritional benefits.
1. Monounsaturated Fats: MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids) are a fat-lovers dream. Everyone (not just the Paleo community) acknowledges that these fats are good for you. Eating MUFAs do all sorts of fun stuff like improving blood pressure and minimizing cholesterol levels. Sources of MUFAs are: olives/olive oil, avocado, macadamia & hazelnuts.
2. Saturated Fats: SFAs (saturated fatty acids) have been extremely demonized in mainstream health literature as the cause of high cholesterol and heart disease. False. SFAs that come from grass-fed and organic animals are fine. For example: Your average burger from a fast food place was grain fed and fried in industrially processed seed oils. That’s an issue with how it was sourced and prepared, not with the meat on it’s own. SFAs are tricky subject and It Starts with Food does a great job of explaining the nuances of SFAs. Since this is just a summary, I don’t plan to go into it all here. (But here is an article you can read if you’d like more info.) Sources of SFAs are: ghee, lard, tallow, etc.
3. Polyunsaturated Fats: There are lots of types of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids) but the most talked about ones are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Too much omega-3 and omega-6 can cause inflammation in your cells. If you eat Paleo you’re already avoiding overeating omega-6s because you aren’t eating industrial seed oils like canola oil. Good. Omega-3s come by the way of pastured animals (chickens, beef) and wild salmon. Nuts can be high in omega-6 as well. The best choices are macadamias, hazelnuts, and cashews.
4. Trans Fats: Nothing to say here except stay far away! These are man made fats and also go by the term “partially hydrogenation.” Just stay away. Chris Kresser explains the difference between industrial trans fats and naturally occurring trans fats here.
5. Coconut: I separated out coconut because even though it’s a saturated fat, you’ll never have to worry if it was fed a clean diet. Coconut is a great fat source because it’s easily absorbed and can withstand high heat for cooking. More on the wonders of coconut here.
So there ya have it. Fats! They’re wonderful sources of energy. Stick with MUFAs and SFAs (and coconut). Occasionally enjoy PUFAs and avoid trans fat like the plague!