I remember when I was a teenager, the best way to lose weight was to cut out fat. As a matter of fact; most people back then trained themselves to excise all fat from their diet in hope of slimming down. The food industry was all too happy to roll out new kinds of “low fat” and “fat free” products to meet this health trend. We were basically constantly looking out for fat. I remember how we used to check the nutritional labels when we shop and our eyes would sparkle when we see “fat free” or “low fat”. According to all conventional wisdom at the time; eating fat made you fat!!
What is even worse is that we would reach out to certain foods that were fat free; prepackaged and marketed as healthy and low calorie and they would cause intense cramping, bloating, and horrible diarrhea. And when I occasionally chose to eat a high fat meal I felt horrible because my body is not used to it.
Because fat already acts as a digestive lubricant, increasing fat too quickly can cause this problem to get worse. Fat is also a very complex molecule; it doesn’t digest quickly. For people who are not used to eating fat at all in their diet, a high-fat meal can take a toll on them because they already exhausted their digestive system with a dry diet.
Here’s the kicker: The main factor that causes poor bile quality is a low-fat diet. When there is little fat in our diet, bile release isn’t signaled, so bile sits in the gallbladder, turning thick and viscous. When we do eat fat, the gallbladder can’t squeeze out the thick bile, and the fat passes through our digestive tract undigested, causing inflammation and discomfort.
It was clear I needed to re-incorporate fat into my diet, for the sake of my health. So I started by adding oil to my salads, incorporating nuts and seeds into my diet, getting used to full fat milk and cheese. Nuts and seeds have rigid cell walls, which prevents the intestines from absorbing the fat into the body. Back in the day we were not really aware of the health benefits of these nuts. So I started gradually reading about how good they are. I would toss chia seeds into my oatmeal, sprinkle almonds on my yoghurt, and slip flax into my salads. Later, I moved on to organic nut butters and avocados (hence my logo).
After a while of getting used to adding fat back into my diet, I began to notice a change in my physical and mental health. I was not constantly eating like I had been before—in fact, I was amazed that I no longer needed my midmorning snack! My skin and hair looked stronger and healthier. I found that I had less brain fog and was better able to focus for longer. All of this from just adding some avocado or nuts here and there.
Although fat got a lot of flak in the 1990s’, but it turns out that fat is actually very important to a healthy diet. Fat comes in two main forms: unsaturated and saturated fat. You need both kinds in your diet, but the majority should come from unsaturated fats. The current recommendation is that you get about 20-35% of your daily calories from fat (that’s 56-78 grams of fat on a 2,000-calorie diet), with no more than 10% (22 grams) coming from saturated fat.
So what does fat actually do for you?
1. It’s a major fuel source for your body (meaning it provides a lot of calories) and also the main way you store energy.
2. You need fat to help you absorb certain nutrients and like vitamins A, D, E and K.
3. Fat is important in giving your cells structure and strengthens your immune system
4. Omega-3 fats, a type of unsaturated fat, are important for optimum nerve, brain and heart function. One type of fat you don’t need? Trans fats, an artificial kind of fat found in partially hydrogenated oils.
Do not fear fat! Eating healthy fat is necessary for the production of estrogen, which is responsible for fertility, brain development, organ sustainability and maintaining healthy bones. Severely restricting fat is not reasonable or healthy and not effective as a long-term weight loss measure. Yet, as with most things there’s a catch… for example many of you love peanut butter and avocados, you still need to be mindful. An average avocado weighing 200g contains more than 300 calories. This is absolutely fine as the main component to a meal, just make sure you do not over indulge and pack on the extra calories because they are dense and you might not need that much for the day. Moderation is key.. always!
Zein Nimri is an AFPA certified sports nutritionist, NESTA kids nutritionist, long distance runner, cyclist and traveller with big dreams. Follow her on Instagram @Zeinutritionist