Wednesday, June 24, 2015

You Can Get Good And Fat On Good Fats

A long time ago everyone thought all fat was bad. The wisdom at the time was that you should eat as little fat as possible.

Then the tide changed. Now we all know there are different kinds of fat. Not all fat is created equal.

According to current research, one of the worst things you can do for your health and your waistline, is eat food that contain hydrogenated oils. Apparently we all need to stay away from these fats.

We need to be careful about how much saturated fat we eat. This is the fat that can clog up your arteries and lead to a host of related issues. As much as some of us love bacon, butter or a nicely marbled steak it's prudent to be mindful of how much of this we eat.

Then there are fats that are good. There is good news about good fats. Good fats are very good. They are good for your brain and your heart. Having good fats as part of your diet is a good idea.

Some examples of healthy foods containing ample quantities of good fats are fish such as salmon, nuts like walnuts, nut butters, avocados, olive oil and eggs.

This list is not exhaustive and this post is not a scientific study. Other people have already written those. There are many excellent and accessible books and articles on the subject of fats and their place in a healthy diet.  In addition if you haven't yet read my post called Disclaimers please go ahead and do so.

Any expertise I have comes from losing weight, reaching an ideal weight for me, and maintaining that weight for several years.

I am going to lay out a hypothetical, untrue but plausible scenario.

Let's say I have a hefty middle-aged Facebook friend. The friend has made a public announcement via his newsfeed. He is parting ways with his old eating habits. He has developed a paunch. He'd like to lose a good twenty pounds. In addition, he has been spending way too many late nights at work fueled by McDonalds and sugar-laden, supersized frothy Starbucks drinks.

He has turned over a brand new leaf. This is evident in the gorgeous picture of his dinner that he has posted on Facebook.

Imagine the photograph. Pictured is a succulent and generous slice of a perfectly cooked salmon filet. On top of that are five ripe slices of tender avocado, glistening with olive oil. More olive oil was employed in the preparation of haricot verts, further dressed up with a healthy and tasty tapenade. Crunchy brown rice has the added nutrition of balsamic olive oil vinaigrette, chopped fresh basil and a handful or two of pan-roasted walnuts.

This plate is brimming with good fats, good taste and good nutrition.

If my Facebook friend were a 600 pound man, unable to leave his bed with a typical dinner consisting of three buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken and the accompanying sides, consumed alone, night after night while lying in bed, then that man will begin losing weight immediately on this diet.

If my Facebook friend is the next Michael Phelps and is in serious training for the Olympic swim team he would lose weight eating this meal. He might eat three of these meals back to back and lose weight.

We have already established that my mythical Facebook friend is middle aged. If he were 16 years old he would lose weight eating this regularly.

If my paunchy Facebook friend eats this meal once in a while, then he can still lose weight. But if he eats a meal reminiscent of this nightly, followed only by a meandering walk or leisurely splash in the pool and his major goal is to fit into his wedding tuxedo, then he is sadly mistaken. He will not lose weight.

If my imaginary Facebook friend were a woman rather than a man, then the bad news is even worse.

Here’s why.

In my quest to lose weight and maintain it, I've used Weight Watchers online as one of my tools. I have been tracking my food intake in the form of Weight Watchers PointsPlus. As a result, I am a sort of PointsPlus expert.

The meal I described to you is infinitely healthier than the Big Mac this guy used to eat for dinner. He will definitively be a healthier fat man eating this meal.  Its likely he will have more energy, have better blood work numbers at the doctor, and maybe stave off some diseases.

But in terms of PointsPlus, calories or any other objective measure this meal is stunningly similar to the Big Mac and fries.

Let's consider the slab of salmon. It's at least 15 ounces. Salmon isn't cheap in terms of PointsPlus. That isn't a big serving while you are eating it. It's easy to plow through 15 ounces of salmon. But the scale itself doesn't care if this is a sustainable wild fish or special sauce. The avocado slices, modest as they may seem compared to Fast Food, equal roughly 3/4 of an avocado. Though virtuous, these slices are also highly caloric.

Everything glistens. Olive oil is clearly good for you. But it adds up. Hearing a glugging noise from the bottle during food prep is a sign you may be overdoing it. Using cups to measure is probably not advisable. Spoons are a better bet. Drizzle means a teaspoon or two.

Finally, there are the walnuts. Again, virtuous in terms of good fats, protein and fiber. I've read about how much a handful of walnuts can do for your health. But there are handfuls and there are handfuls. What I'm seeing here is not a dainty handful.

Cut the serving size of salmon in half, or a third, top with a slice or two of avocado, skip the walnuts and put half the amount pictured on your oatmeal in the morning and then this starts to look like a weight loss plan. A lighter touch on the vinaigrette and a true measured drizzle would also help. Now we are onto something.

You are still getting the benefits of the good fats but not getting good and fat. Portion sizes are important. Difficult to accept, but important.

My experience in talking about good fats is not coming from a place of easy success. Before Weight Watchers online, I tried going solo on my own self-invented eating plan. I will be writing more about this creative and ineffective eating plan at a later time.

My kids were very young at the time. I had a demanding part time job that expanded and contracted unpredictably. My husband Jeremy was working long hours.

I was using M&Ms and other junk foods to power through my afternoon slumps. The infusions of simple sugars were an effective temporary energy and mood lifter. I'd been reading about the dangers of consuming sugar in this fashion. I wisely decided to make some substitutions.

I also wanted to lose some weight. I had no idea about PointsPlus at the time. I started eating a handful of almonds or walnuts rather than the candy. Let's say that the word handful was very loosely interpreted. I incorporated good fats into my diet with the abandon I'd once employed M&MS.

Long story short is that I gained weight. I weighed more with my substitutions devoid of any sense of reasonable servings than I did eating candy and donuts washed down with my kids' juice boxes or Coca Cola.

This is just my personal experience. But when I see articles that imply that good fats are good in unlimited quantities or that eating good fats will never make you fat, I am understandably suspicious.

I do believe – and I haven’t read a single scientific study supporting this – that a fat person who got fat eating large portions of a Mediterranean diet is healthier than a fat person who got fat on fast food and cookies.

As of today, I am incorporating delicious and healthy variety of good fats into my eating plan. I am mindful of portion sizes and reasonable handfuls. The nuts I eat are not roasted with salt, oil and sugar. I measure my nut butters in tablespoons rather than a quarter jar full.

In case you would like to read the work of actual experts in the field of nutrition, take a look at these articles from Shape and Men's Health.

This is the third post in a series I am writing about maintaining a healthy weight.

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  1. Hi Karen, I appreciate what you are trying to do, but when it comes to food, there is no real, clear, one-size-fits-all solution. So you have to be your own lab rat. What you are learning is important, but the more you approach it as you are your own "control" you will find it easier to figure out. Fats are incredibly important. Until this country/world wakes up to the fact that fats (and proteins) are probably the most important thing we can eat, we will not lose weight or maintain healthy diets/weights. And the fats you mention are good fats, but I also regularly eat coconut oil, ghee (Indian clarified butter) and beef tallow (yes, beef tallow) that I use every day for cooking, and I am not gaining anything -- I have several digestive diseases, so gaining, for me, is difficult, but I also know that the bacteria in my gut has a lot to do with it. I have had my gut bacteria analyzed many times over the past year, and it is mostly fat-eating bacteria that clearly my husband doesn't harbor! Our gut bacteria is the reason we gain or lose weight, live or die (basically). We are mostly made up of bacteria, and this bacteria rules our lives and creates our cravings. Most bacteria loves sugar and thrives on it. The more sugar we feed our guts, the more bacteria that loves sugar grows and insists on more sugar. The less sugar we eat (in my case almost none), the fewer bacteria we harbor that lives on sugar, so sugar becomes irrelevant. The best way to get our bacteria to behave the way we want it to is to eat cultured foods! Start slowly with cultured food and build it up in your diet. I highly recommend making your own, because it's easy and cheap and there are many websites that explain how, but our own farmer's market is full of raw sauerkraut. But fat is what sates us and keeps us full. Protein is what gives us the ability to manage all the sugar and starch by keeping us from crashing our systems. Start your day with protein and keep up the protein and you will do better in every way. But do not take my word for it -- take your body's words/feelings. Change only one thing at a time and figure out if it's working or not working before moving on to change another thing. An entire diet shift isn't helpful. Any part of it could be a problem, causing a person to discard the whole thing. And most packaged diets like Weight Watchers are made for cookie cutter people, and no one fits that model perfectly (so the weight comes back on eventually). Nothing will change unless we shift our bacterial load toward better bacteria. xoxoxo

  2. Emma - thanks for your comments! I took a workshop given by you years ago. You will be happy to know that there was a major shift and takeaway for me. It became clear that I wasn't eating enough protein with lunch. Thanks to you, I have shifted my eating and noticed a difference in mood, satiety and energy since making that change.I have maintained this change over many years. Thank you for giving the workshop and giving excellent advice.

    I urge you too read a post I wrote called Disclaimers. In that post, I talk about all of my limitations in terms of dietary advice.

    You have a medical condition which puts you in a very different place than I am and I cannot presume to give you advice. In fact, in my post disclaimers I am clear that certain people should ignore "everything I have to say"

    I never tell other people to do Weight Watchers. I do share that it works for me. I am not a cookie cutter. I am a human being who enjoys eating, cooking, am healthy and although the vast majority of people gain weight back quickly after losing, I have not. I have maintained a heathy weight for over 7 years. People are constantly asking me how I do it. Ive decided to tell them.

    But I am clear as can be about my limitations. Most people will not succeed with weight watchers. But telling me I am not successful with it when I feel great isn't helpful either.

    I have increasingly added cultured foods to my diet and am interested in hearing more. Are you writing about this? do you have an accessible article to send me? Id love to hear more.