In the '90s, low-fat diets were all the rage. From low-fat salad dressings and cheeses to carb-heavy snacks such as pretzels and crackers, most health-conscious Americans avoided dietary fat like the plague. But guess what happened? We actually got fatter! Today, even though '90s-inspired neon-hued clothing is back in style, the low fat diets of the '90s are decidedly out, according to nutritional experts. In three words: fat is back! Read on to find out how eating more fat actually helps you lose weight, what types of fat you should be eating and avoiding, and how much fat you should be eating daily.
How does eating fat help you lose weight?
We know, it seems counterintuitive at first. How could eating more fat help you stay thin? It has a lot to do with what you are eating too much of (mainly, carbs!) when you aren't eating enough fat.
"For years, low-fat diets were believed to help us lose weight; unfortunately these diets are higher in carbohydrates and lower in satiety," says Nicole Piazza, MS, RD, and owner of The Clean Plate Kitchen. "In efforts to make these low-fat diets taste good, the diet is often high in sugars, processed foods, and trans fats. Replacing some carbohydrates (think sugar!) with healthy fats can help you to feel fuller longer and lose weight!"
Echoing these sentiments, Jodi G. Dalyai MS, RD, who works for a Los Angeles-based healthcare provider, adds, "When a decent portion of your daily calories (20-25 percent) come from fat, you fill up on healthy, less processed foods, curbing appetite. And when your appetite is controlled, you are less likely to choose processed carbs, i.e. snack foods and sweets, which add calories."
But curbing your urge to binge on carbs, sugars, and trans fats, isn't the only reason to eat more fat. What's more? "Fats support healthy metabolism by carrying nutrients to the cells need to them," adds Ashely Koff, RD. So as it turns out, you actually need that healthy drizzle of olive oil on your veggies or salad to transport all those vital phytonutrients where they need to go.
What are the healthiest kinds of fats to eat?
So now that you know you should be eating more fat to control cravings and avoid carb overload, that doesn't give you the green light to load up on bacon, pizza, or cupcakes. Why? "Not all fats are created equally," explains Piazza.
Here's what you need to know: essentially, there are three types of fats: saturated fats (mostly found in animal products), unsaturated fats (found in plants), and trans fats (chemically processed fats).
Hands down, unsaturated fats are the fats you should be eating the most of.
Here's why: "Specifically, monounsaturated fats, or MUFAs, and polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, have been shown to help with achieving a slimmer waistline. Both of these unsaturated fats are healthy fats found in plants. They are particularly high in avocados, coconut, olives, peanuts, and sunflower seeds. These unsaturated fats — the "good fats" — are easier for our bodies to process and use for energy. Another healthy fat not to be overlooked is omega-3 fatty acids," adds Piazza. Salmon is a popular source of omega-3s, but they are found in plants too, like walnuts, flax, and chia seeds."
What fats should you limit or avoid?
So which fats should you limit or steer clear of? If you ask Dalyai, you'll want to "limit animal fats and avoid trans fats, which are fats that are processed by hydrogenation, such as old-fashioned margarine. The Nurses Health Study showed a correlation between animal fat/saturated fat intake and higher weight, but no such correlation with plant fats/monounsaturated and polyunsaturated intake."
Plant-based dietitian Julieanna Heaver, MS, RD, CPT, couldn't agree more: "The American heart Association recommends consuming no more than five to six percent of total calories from saturated fats, which is just about the amount found in an average vegan diet (excluding all animal products)."
So, here's the bottom line on fats: according to nutritional experts, you'll want to avoid trans fats found in chemically processed foods, limit saturated fats mostly found in animal foods, and go for unsaturated fats found in plant foods.
How much fat should you be eating?
When it comes to getting your dose of healthy fats, according to Heaver, "There is a broad range somewhere between 10 to 35 percent of calories from fat that may be optimal. The Institute of Medicine recommends 20 to 35 percent of calories from fat." Daylai's approach is that there's no need overthink it: "I suggest some at every meal and snack vs. controlling the exact portion. For example, breakfast could be a toast with peanut butter, lunch could be a salad with avocado, and dinner could be fish and veggies sautéed in olive oil. And there is no better snack than a fruit and handful of nuts!"