High fat foods are something that everyone who wants to lose weight naturally tries to steer clear of. But is it really necessary? Could avoiding high fat foods actually be bad for you?
Well, there’s one thing that can definitely be said about these foods, and that’s that they’re high in calories. So they definitely need to be eaten in moderation, that’s for sure. But as for avoiding them altogether, that’s just not necessary.
In fact, it’s strongly recommended that you don’t.
You see, certain high fat foods actually provide you with some very important and healthy nutrients. Yes, even if you’re trying to lose weight. The secret is to eat foods that contain the healthy fats, and avoid the foods that have the unhealthy fats.
The simple solution to the high fat foods puzzle then is not to judge a food by how much fat it contains, but rather what kind of fats it contains.
If you think this is starting to sound all too scientific and confusing, don’t worry. It really isn’t. In fact it’s actually quite simple. I’ll break it down for you into very small, painless steps.
The first step of course is to understand what fats do for you. And then once we’ve taken care of that, we can look at the differences between the various types of fats.
Why Do You Need Fats?
The simple reason it’s not recommended that you avoid fats in your diet is that your body actually needs them. That means that certain high fat foods are actually essential to your body’s function and health.
Here’s a list of some of the more important roles that healthy dietary fats play in your body:
- They’re used in the production of cell membranes in your body and promote healthy cell function.
- They’re used in the production of several hormones and hormone-like compounds in your body that help to regulate your blood pressure, heart rate, blood clotting, and your nervous system.
- They’re sources of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which serve several important functions in your body. Your body can’t produce these and can therefore only get them from your diet.
- A particular group of vitamins – the fat-soluble ones (vitamins A, D, E, and K), can only be digested, absorbed, and transported in your body with fats acting as carriers.
- They play a key role in maintaining healthy skin and hair.
This list covers points about the general functioning of your body. But what about weight loss?
Well, healthy dietary fats also play an important part in the fat-loss process. Here are some of the roles they play in that regard:
- They improve your body’s fat-burning efficiency.
- They can increase your strength and energy.
- They increase muscle-building hormones, and improve insulin function.
- They act as buffers to the breaking down of carbohydrates into your bloodstream, helping to control your blood sugar level. In other words, they lower the GI of carbohydrates that are consumed as part of the same meal.
- They provide a feeling of fullness after your meals.
It’s also important to note that when your fat intake drops too low, your body starts exhibiting a starvation response. This means it begins shedding muscle and slowing your metabolism in order to conserve energy. This is something you of course want to avoid, especially if weight loss is your goal.
OK then, so now that you know the importance of fat in your diet, the next step is to get an understanding about the different types of fats and their effects on your body. That way you’ll be able to decide which high fat foods are your friends and which are the enemy.
Good Fats, Bad Fats and Deadly Fats
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, oils ain’t oils . . . well, the same goes for fats. Dietary fats range from very healthy to very unhealthy, and everywhere in between.
Let’s take a close look then at the 4 main types of fats, and how good or bad they are for you:
Unsaturated fats almost always come from plant sources, and they’re generally liquid at room temperature.
These are good, healthy fats, and should make up as much of your fat intake as possible. Any high fat foods you eat should have a high portion of their fat content as unsaturated fat, since these will be very healthy foods.
One of the reasons why unsaturated fats are healthier than other fats is they have larger molecules that tend to slide past each other in your bloodstream. This means that unlike other fats, they cause very little to no build-up of plaque to occur in your arteries.
Unsaturated fats such as olive oil or canola oil eventually turn rancid however, when they’re exposed to air. This is why commercial food producers generally don’t use many unsaturated fats in their products. Instead they opt for the unhealthier fats that last longer.
Foods such as biscuits, cookies and fried snacks would only last several days on store shelves before going bad if they were made with unsaturated fats. Not that you would eat these foods anyhow, even if they were baked with healthy fats!
There are two main varieties of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fats are the healthier of the two families of unsaturated fats.
Studies have shown that monounsaturated fats lower the bad cholesterol in your blood (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) without lowering your good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).
Clinical trials have also suggested that a diet that focuses on monounsaturated fats can reduce your chances of developing diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome. This is basically a collection of risk factors for heart disease that includes high blood pressure, abdominal obesity, and low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol.
It’s believed that the high consumption of olive oil in Mediterranean countries is one of the reasons why these countries have lower levels of heart disease. It’s also believed that monounsaturated fats offer protection against certain cancers, like breast cancer and colon cancer.
Polyunsaturated fats are the second family of unsaturated fats, and therefore they’re also good, healthy fats. They’re not quite as healthy as monounsaturated fats though.
Studies have shown that like monounsaturated fats, they too lower the bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood, but it’s been found that they can lower your good (HDL) cholesterol as well.
Nevertheless, polyunsaturated fats are still an important part of your diet. Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids, which your body needs for good health, are both polyunsaturated fats. Your body can’t produce these, so you can only get them from your diet.
Omega-3 fatty acids in fish and seafood have been shown to lower your risk of heart disease. It’s also believed that Omega-6 fatty acids in sunflower oil and safflower oil may also do the same. One type of Omega-3 fatty acid has also been associated with a reduced risk of breast cancer.
Saturated fats are normally solid or waxy at room temperature, and almost always come from animal sources. The only notable exceptions to this are coconut oil and palm oil, which of course are plant sources.
These fats are bad, unhealthy fats, so you should try to replace them with unsaturated fats in your diet as much as possible. High fat foods that have high amounts of saturated fat are definitely foods that you want to avoid.
US guidelines recommend that no more than 10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat. This is really quite liberal though, especially if you’re trying to lose weight or if you have heart or blood pressure problems. The less saturated fats you can consume, the better.
Saturated fats increase the bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood, in fact they’re the number one dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. On top of that, their molecules have a natural tendency to bond with each other on contact, which, over time, leads to plaque forming in your arteries, causing them to clog up.
Saturated fats have been linked to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke, among other conditions.
They also lead to weight gain, since they increase fat-storage within your body and decrease your body’s insulin sensitivity. This basically means they decrease the effectiveness of the insulin in your blood in doing its job of transporting blood sugars out of your blood and into your cells, muscles and liver.
Trans fats are the very worst and unhealthiest of all fats. Any high fat foods that contain trans fats are therefore very damaging to your health and your weight loss results, and should be avoided at all costs.
These fats actually occur naturally in small amounts of usually less than a few percent, in the body fat and milk of cows and sheep. For many years this was practically the only source of trans fats, but today with the growth of the processed food industry that’s changed dramatically.
Nowadays, trans fats are unfortunately in plentiful supply. That’s because they’re created artificially, using a process called partial hydrogenation.
Hydrogenation is a process where unsaturated fats are chemically changed to become saturated fats. When hydrogenation isn’t carried out all the way to completion, the degree of saturation of the fat can be controlled, and with it the melting point, the consistency, and various other properties of the fat.
Trans fats, or partially hydrogenated fats, therefore become semi-solid to some degree.
There’s absolutely no upside to consuming trans fats. They increase your risk of heart disease by increasing the bad cholesterol (LDL) in your blood and decreasing your good cholesterol (HDL). They can lead to diabetes and stroke, and have even been linked to cancer, liver dysfunction and infertility.
Trans fats are also damaging to your fat loss process. It’s been shown that like saturated fats, they decrease your body’s insulin sensitivity, and that they also increase your body’s insulin response to blood sugar as well. This basically means that they raise the Glycemic Index, or GI, of any carbohydrates that you consume as part of the same meal (or snack).
So then, if trans fats are so damaging to your health, why are they used in the first place?
Well, there are a few reasons, none of which have your best interests in mind:
- They’re cheaper than animal fats.
- They last a long time without spoiling.
- They have less need for refrigeration.
- They can be made in any desired consistency.
- They’re great for baking because they produce a desirable, moist and flaky consistency in baked foods.
- They’re more stable than unsaturated oils, so they can be used for frying by restaurants and eateries repeatedly without breaking down as quickly as natural oils.
Good and Bad High Fat Foods
OK then, so now that you understand which fats are good and which are bad, it’s a very simple exercise to make the right choices among high fat foods.
What you’ll find though is that in practice most high fat foods actually contain a mixture of several different types of fats. You won’t, for example, find any food that’s 100% monounsaturated fat. That would be too easy!
The object is to focus on foods with lots of unsaturated fats, a small amount of saturated fat, and no trans fats whatsoever.
Finding foods that fit this rule is actually a lot easier than you might think. Especially the part about no trans fats. Why? Simple . . . because natural foods don’t have trans fats.
Avoid the processed rubbish, and you avoid artificial trans fats.
To help you on your way, below I’ve put together a list of high fat foods, both healthy and unhealthy, that shows the their content of each type of fat.
Let’s start with some high fat foods and oils that are rich in monounsaturated fats. These are all healthy foods, although the ones that are higher in saturated fat need to be more so eaten in moderation.
|Sunflower Oil (High Oleic)||84%||4%||10%|
|Safflower Oil (High Oleic)||75%||14%||6%|
|Fish Oil (Herring)||57%||16%||21%|
|Cod Liver Oil||47%||23%||23%|
Now let’s take a look at some high fat foods and oils that are rich in polyunsaturated fats. These are also all healthy foods, but again, you need to watch the ones that are higher in saturated fat.
|Safflower Oil (High Linoleic)||14%||75%||6%|
|Grape Seed Oil||16%||70%||10%|
|Sunflower Oil (High Linoleic)||20%||66%||10%|
|Wheat Germ Oil||15%||62%||19%|
|Fish Oil – Salmon||29%||40%||20%|
And finally, some high fat foods and oils that are rich in saturated fats. Of course these are unhealthy foods and should therefore be largely avoided.
|Palm Kernel Oil||11%||2%||82%|
|Fish Oil – Menhaden||27%||34%||30%|
Of course there are a variety of other high fat foods that are rich in saturated fats. How healthy or unhealthy they are however, depends on how they’re prepared. Some examples of these are fatty red meats, chicken, pork and sausages.
While it’s not necessary to avoid foods that have some amount of saturated fat, there are a few rules to follow when deciding on these:
- Only choose foods that contain saturated fat if they have other, very beneficial qualities that make them worth eating.
- Deciding upon a food that contains saturated fat is a trade-off between the amount of saturated fat and the beneficial qualities of the food. If the saturated fat level is too high, the food is best avoided altogether.
- How lenient you can be with the saturated fat content of a food depends on how much of the food you actually eat. For example, high fat foods such as fatty meats are a much greater concern than say a high fat sauce or dressing used sparingly in a dish once in a while.
As far as artificial trans fats go, they’re generally found in fried fast foods such as fried chicken, fried fish and French fries; and in commercially baked goods such as cakes, pastries, doughnuts, cookies, pies, potato chips, corn chips and crackers. Some margarines are also high in trans fats.
These are all foods you would generally avoid anyhow for the benefit of good health and weight loss.
High Fat Foods and Calories
The one important point to remember about high fat foods is that all fats, whether they’re healthy or unhealthy, are high in calories. Unlike proteins and carbohydrates, which contain about 4 calories per gram, fats contain 9 calories per gram.
So as well as choosing your high fat foods carefully based upon their quality, you also need to eat them in moderation since it’s not difficult to overdo your calorie intake with these foods.