“Doc, I’ve been cutting my fruits and starchy foods, eating more vegetables and protein-rich foods like you advised, and I’ve lost seven pounds in the past two weeks! But the idea of eating full-fat cheese and real butter, and egg-yolks … I mean, I just can’t get my head wrapped around the idea that fat can be good for me.”
There are plenty of reasons a healthy diet contains healthy fats, and fat-burning may be my favorite.
Yes, you are what you eat. But that’s not the whole story.I mean, you are what you eat, right?
The rest of the story has to do with how your body metabolizes the nutrients it receives. And this has to do with what your metabolism has been trained to do. The truth is, our metabolisms behave like eager students, awaiting instructions on how to make use of the foods we eat.
Let me give you a specific example of what I’m talking about by jumping right in to the number one benefit of eating natural fats.
Fat burn is an acquired talent. Well, sort of acquired. Actually, we’re reminding our metabolisms of an innate talent that it’s had for thousands of years before we came along and started eating low fat. Kind of like relearning a language you used to be fluent in during early childhood. Many people who have been following low fat diets for extended periods–months to years–have lost much of their innate capacity for burning fat and need to jump start their fat burning enzymes by including plenty of healthy fat and cutting back on other fuels, particularly sugars.
When your metabolism is trained to use fat as an energy source, fat is the first thing it looks for when it gets hungry as it does during a tough work out, a marathon run or a long afternoon at work. Unfortunately, most folks don’t benefit from such a nimble metabolism (also called “metabolic flex”), and so their bodies, when searching for fuel, will do anything to stick with the old habit of burning sugar. And fat cannot be converted to sugar. Protein, however, can. So your metabolism will go after the very muscle you’ve worked so hard at the gym to acquire.
When your metabolism lacks the combination of enzymes required to unlock the stores of energy hidden away in your fat tissue it will look outside your body. You will feel hungry more often. Junk food manufacturers are happy to take advantage of this weakness by providing the cheap-to-produce junk foods containing lots of sugar, starch, cheap industrial fats—and the flavor enhancers to keep you munching well after your hunger has been satiated.
Are natural fats just “okay”—like an occasional indulgence you can get away with, or do they contain essential nutrients you can’t live without?
Let me make this plain: Natural fats, including not just coconut and avocado but also animal fats from animals raised in a caring and natural environment, are a vital and important part of any optimal diet. I say “optimal” rather than good because you can do very well on a whole food diet that does not include these fats. However, those people who chose not to include healthy animal fats in their diet will often find benefit by turning to supplements that fill this gap.
Here’s just a few of the nutrients found in far greater quantity in high-fat foods than low-fat foods (click forward button beneath image):
Folks are often concerned that animals raised in unhealthy conditions store manmade toxins in their fat, and they’re right. That’s just another reason to make sure, whatever animal products you get, they come from the best possible source you can afford.
Let’s say you just paid $12 for a lovely salad of mixed greens at your favorite restaurant topped with Canola oil-based low-fat dressing. If you live in the midwest, many of the wonderful antioxidants and vitamins in those greens will take a journey via the sewer system and wind up floating past New Orleans and into the Mississippi delta. Your body needs fat to break down, digest, absorb and finally transport the fat-soluble nutrient in vegetables (and fruit).
For those of you who are not convinced, I’ve decided to fatten up my argument with a bonus, sixth reason:
Wouldn’t it be great if meats like chicken came with some sort of protective material that would help to ensure the meat does not dry out during cooking? Wouldn’t it be great if hamburger meat could include some kind of moisturizing material that would allow the meat to cook more evenly and to remain juicy when done? Not only would these meats wind up being healthier, they’d taste better too.
Good news! Nature’s already come up with a solution. Ask Tom Collichio and other top chefs: Serious cooks prefer to cook meat whole, as in with the fat or fatty skin still present.
Bad news, Mr. and Mrs. Well Done “I like to cook the fat out of my meat!”: You didn’t cook it out. Rather, you’ve reconfigured it into a leathery polymer of fused molecules, toughening the meat and changing the taste. These polymerized compounds don’t just toughen the meat; they toughen your arteries—as in atherosclerosis.
Luke helped me make the leap from overcooked to properly cooked by serving our steak with a to-die for caramelized onion reduction sauce.
Take the generalized fear of fats you’ve been lugging around and focus that energy on unnatural fat—the vegetable oils (canola, corn, soy, sunflower, cottonseed, safflower). The sooner you learn to make friends with healthy, natural fats, the sooner you can start to fall back in love with real cooking, the way it’s meant to be done.
So next time you order your steak, trade “well done” for “done well.” Trust me, you’ll taste a world of difference.