If you really want to both trim the amount of fat in your diet and eat the right kinds of fats, here are some important fat facts to consider:
1. Fishy fats. Ever wonder why cold-water fish contain more monounsaturates and are healthier to eat than warm-water swimmers? The fat in the fish is adapted to the temperature of the water. The more unsaturated a fat is, the more oily it becomes. That’s why fish fat flows i.e. it’s oily. The oil in fish acts as an antifreeze in the cold water, so the colder the water the better the oil has to be. Cold water fish are naturally higher in unsaturated, healthier fats. The fat an animal contains is perfectly suited for its survival. If a fish contained the same amount of fat as a steer and the steer was loaded with fish oil, the steer would feel like flubber and the fish would sink. Also, consider the skin of the fish. The healthiest fish oils are found under the skin. Unlike poultry, it’s best to eat the fish with the skin on.
THE FAT OF THE LAND OR THE FRUITS OF THE SEA?
Fat from fish is nutritionally preferable to animal fats for several reasons. Fish fats are much higher in unsaturated fatty acids, where most animal fats are around 50 percent saturated and 50 percent unsaturated. Another factor is the difference in the essential fatty acid content of fish and animals. Fish fats contain primarily omega 3 essential fatty acids, which are important to the formation of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins that help the body repair and heal itself by replacing old tissue with new tissue. It is interesting to speculate that there might be a connection between the rising incidence of inflammatory and degenerative diseases (such as arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and colitis) and the predominance of animal fats over fish fats in the average American diet. It is also interesting that cultures that eat a lot of fish have a lower incidence of these diseases.
2. Fat calories are fatter. If you are trying to lose weight or stay lean, be especially vigilant about counting fat calories, since these are absorbed and stored as fat more quickly than calories from carbohydrates or proteins. Calories from fat are more fattening than those from carbohydrates or proteins, for three reasons.
- Each gram of fat contains over twice as many calories as the same amount of proteins or carbohydrates.
- The body stores the calories from dietary fat as body fat more easily than calories from other nutrients.
- When you eat a food, the body burns some of the calories from that food just to metabolize it. The body uses only three percent of the calories from fat to metabolize it, yet burns 20 to 25 percent of the calories from carbohydrates to convert them into sugars. The body prefers to burn carbohydrates as a quick energy source, burning fat for energy only when the carbohydrate stores are exhausted. Also, the body burns the healthier fats (unsaturated fats) for fuel more easily than it burns saturated fats, which are more likely to make their way onto your waistline.
3. Fowl fats. Even most confirmed chicken fryers know that chicken fat is bad for you. Most fowl fat lies just under the skin. Once you remove that flavorful fatty stuff, the underlying meat, especially if white, is fairly lean, containing around seven percent fat. As an added fat perk, fowl fat is rich in omega fatty acids. So, choose chicken breast over chicken thighs, bake instead of fry the bird, and remove the skin. Also, pick your poultry. Turkey is leaner than chicken and white meat is leaner than dark. Dark meat contains almost twice as much fat as white meat.
The Chicken and the Egg
What a chicken eats shows up in her eggs. Eggs from free-range chickens contain more omega-3 fatty acids and a lower ratio of omega-6-to-omega-3 fatty acids than cage-raised chickens, which are fed lower omega-3 fatty acids and a higher omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio. The yolk of Greek eggs (which come from hens fed fish meal) contains six times the amount of omega-3 fatty acid found in the usual U.S. supermarket eggs. Similarly, ocean-caught fish contain more DHA than farm-raised fish do. This is because the fish eat the algae, which are the primary producers of DHA on our planet.
4. Green fats. While we don’t think of plants as rich sources of fat, some are. While it’s true that plants don’t contain a lot of fat, what little fat they contain is high in essential fatty acids. Plants use omega 3 fatty acids to store sunlight energy. The darker and greener the leaves, the more essential fatty acids these leaves usually contain. So, do your brain and your body a favor, choose spinach and kale for your salad makings and leave the iceberg in the bin.
An Omega Salad
Want to make a “right fats” salad? The following salad makings are high in omega 3 fatty acids: 1 tablespoon of flax oil; seeds and nuts, especially walnuts. Flax seed, pumpkin seed, canola, and soy are common oils that are high in omega 3′s, and a good combination with omega 3-rich green, leafy vegetables such as spinach.
5. Slimming fats. Essential fatty acids (omega 3 and 6) are the fats that are least likely to succeed in making their way to the thighs and waist. Essential fatty acids actually stimulate metabolism by speeding up the rate at which the body burns fats and glucose. So, I consumed most of my daily fat requirements from fish and flax, and my cravings for fattening fats were reduced. (See The L.E.A.N. Program).
6. Farm fats. Fish that swim and fowl that run have healthier fat profiles than those in a cage or pond, for two reasons. It’s common sense that meat that exercises is leaner than meat that just sets or floats. Also, plants that grow in the field or food that grows in the sea are nutritionally better than factory-made feeds. In fact, farm-raised meat may contain as much as forty percent more fat than free-roaming or free-swimming varieties.
7. Fertile fats. The amount of estrogen in the blood seems to be dependent on the amount of fat in a woman’s body. Once a female drops below fifteen percent of her normal body weight as fat, menstruation is likely to stop temporarily. Gymnasts in training, adolescents with anorexia, and overly lean teens are likely to have delayed menstruation.
8. Polluted fats. Chemical pesticides and pollutants tend to be stored in body fat. So, theoretically, the higher the fat content of the food, the more pesticides and pollutants it could contain. For this reason, be careful of high-fat foods, such as butter and beef. For high-fat foods, buying organic varieties makes nutritional sense.
9. Blood fats. Healthy fats, especially omega 3 fatty acids found in flax and fish oils, can be thought of as blood thinners. Saturated fats are blood thickeners, clogging the arteries and leading to cardiovascular disease.
10. Nut fats. If you’re a peanut butter lover, as I am, be sure to look at the label to detect whether or not it contains the bad fat word – “hydrogenated.” Hydrogenating the peanut oil solidifies it so it doesn’t separate from the solids and float to the top. In old-fashioned, unhydrogenated peanut butter, the oil has to be stirred back into the peanut butter when you first open the jar. Sure, it’s a little bit of work, but your arteries will thank you.
To help mix in the oil that rises to the top of the jar of unhydrogenated peanut butter, store the jar upside down. That way, the oil rises to the bottom of the jar. Remember to screw the top on tightly when you turn it upside down.
11. Cooking fats. Remember, oils higher in monounsaturates spoil more quickly. Fat-savvy eaters consume antioxidants (literally anti-rust or anti-spoiling nutrients), such as vitamin E along with vitamin C and beta carotene with their healthy fats and oils. Cooking foods, such as onions and garlic (rich in antioxidants), may lessen the damaging effect of heat on oils. All those Mediterranean cooks who start a dish by slicing onions, mincing garlic, and cooking it all in olive oil may be on to something.
12. A little bit of fat. Don’t burn extra calories worrying about eating all of your fats as essential fatty acids. Only about two percent of your total caloric intake needs to be essential fatty acids, which amounts to one to two teaspoons per day, or three to seven grams. A couple teaspoons of flax oil or one serving of fish should do it. Plant and fish oils are much richer sources of essential fatty acids than meat, yet meat is a rich source of essential amino acids and protein.
13. Fats and fiber. Because fiber gives you a sense of fullness sooner, eating a fiber-filled meal is likely to prompt you to eat less fat. On the other hand, you are likely to consume more fat when the menu is low in fiber.
14. Less of a fat tooth. The western taste bud is programmed to enjoy the fatty taste and mouth feel of foods. Reprogram your taste buds. The more you lower the total fat in your diet, the less your taste buds will crave fat.
15. Sluggish fats. Don’t feel you have to eat a high-fat meal in order to have plenty of energy. Because fat is slower to digest, high-fat meals make you feel full longer, yet also make you feel more sluggish. High-fat meals don’t leave you feeling energetic. They make a person want to sit rather than run.
16. Baby fats. Babies need fat – lots of it. Adult fat restrictions should not be applied to infants. Human milk contains around 50 percent of its calories in fats. Not only do infants need more fats, they need more of the right kind of fats, especially for brain growth. Since the brain grows more in the first two years than any other time in a person’s life, it’s most important to provide the infant with the right amount of the right fats at this crucial time. Breastfeeding is your best bet for delivering exactly what the baby needs. As of 1999, infant formulas available in the United States do not contain DHA, which is the most abundant omega-3 long-chain fat in breast milk.
17. Brain fats. The principal fat in the brain is DHA, and the best sources of this fat are products from the sea (seafood and seaweed).
The Mother and the Infant
As with the proverbial chicken and egg, the amount of DHA in a mother’s breast milk depends on the amount of DHA in her diet. A recent study from Australia showed that infants nursing from mothers who had higher levels of DHA in their diets also had better mental development at one year of age.
* Rating foods in order of priority has inherent problems, since the keyword to healthy nutrition is what Grandmother always said – balance. Best to eat a balanced diet containing many kinds of these fats, not just one or two of the top ten. Do not overdose even on those at the top of the list.
* An informative book on best fats for growing brains is: SMART FATS by Dr. Michael Schmidt.