This is a phenomenal post by a former CrossFit Southbay coach/nutritionist, Remy Olson. Check it out…
Fat is the bomb in my book. While this Fat post is long, it’s important, so hopefully it doesn’t bomb. I chose to get down to brass tacks rather than get into the science of dietary or body fat in this post.
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Even more than carbohydrate, fat is perhaps the touchiest nutrition topic out there. Bundle that up with people’s perceptions of body fat and self-worth, that’s some sensitive sh*t. Fat has some of the biggest misinformation bombs out there. Why the contention? Well, from a consumer perspective the majority of messaging we receive tells us: 1) Fat should be minimized overall especially if you want to be skinny (who cares about fit?), 2) certain types of fats (the ones I’m about to tell you are health/performance/longevity-promoting) are deadly, and 3) suggestively, since the other kinds of fats (the ones I’m about to tell you are deadly) are everywhere then they must be healthy.
People get all hot and fussy when you mess with their carbs. They get even fussier when you tell them to not only throw their Quaker Oats, peanut butter, and whole grain pasta in the garbage because they’re mostly empty calories, nearly void of absorbable micronutrients and full of ‘poisons’ (lectins, anti-nutrients), but also to start cooking with (grass-fed) beef tallow, ghee and coconut oil, to keep the yolks, eat whole avocados, and keep the nuts/nut butters to a minimum.
The fats available to us in normal grocery stores and in almost all restaurants are of abysmal quality (various vegetable/bean oils, grain/corn-fed animal fat). If it’s literally everywhere, could it be that bad? (The answer is yes – it’s everywhere because it’s subsidized and dirt cheap). Let’s say after you understood why or just that these fats are abysmal you chose to stop cooking/buying them for your home. You’d get rid of the canola oil, the vegetable shortening, anything containing those (most bottled/canned condiments, pretty much anything with shelf life and other products). Then you’d need to replace them with high quality fats. Unfortunately, you can’t find grass-fed butter, tallow, ghee, or coconut oil in Vons, Albertsons or Ralph’s, only at Whole Foods, Sprouts, cheaply in bulk online, or by making it yourself (tallow, ghee).
The saturated fat, let alone general fat myths about health run so rampant and unchecked in popular media and in medical practice that even if high quality fats were more available, most consumers (judging from their popularity) would opt for ridiculous ‘heart-healthy’ fat-free products. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had or that I have witnessed via my ADA-approved (USDA/food industry-backed) training in my RD program with people who say their doctors/RD told them to eat less meat, more grains, and less fat (i.e. to follow the USDA Food Pyramid) in order to reduce their cholesterol/body fat/blood pressure/arterial plaques/triglycerides… believe me when I say it’s depressing.
What is hopeful is those who, usually via their own research, via CrossFit, or via researchers or research groups, find the evolutionary way of eating (paleo) and figure out for themselves that the opposite works much better (eating high-quality meat, vegetables, fruits and fats in a ratio that occur in nature and seasonally). Countless examples abound on CrossFit websites of individuals doing a paleo challenge or Whole 30 and turning around each of those biomarkers (not to mention performance markers) and sustaining them.
I’m going to summarize my recommendations for you. As always these recommendations come from part first-hand research, part second-hand research from researchers, research institutions, performance nutrition experts such as Robb Wolf, Dr. Eades, MDA, etc.
Fat and happiness
Fat, aside from tasting delicious, results in satiety signals in brain that make us feel satisfied, full, and happy. Sugar does the opposite; after it’s quickly metabolized — removed from your blood stream and stored as body fat (if not used in exercise immediately) — strong hunger sensations ensue. Fat on the other hand leaves you satisfied and causes no insulin/blood sugar spike/crash.
I have seen many treats (paleo muffins, paleo pancakes paleo ice cream, paleo cookies) grace the blog comments and many a Facebook wall that, albeit technically paleo, entirely miss the point of eating in an evolutionary, paleo way, especially if eaten regularly. These treats tend to be quite high in sugar. What is ‘the point’? Among the big ones: to restore insulin sensitivity and a health-promoting ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in your diet (and eventually your body).
What’s wrong with many of these treats on a regular basis? Your body’s systems see little difference between Chips Ahoy and Paleo Treats or your latest agave/molasses/raw honey/date/banana-based paleo muffin. Insulin sensitivity being the key to fixing all kinds of health issues and promoting longevity, a paleo source of concentrated sugar (while slightly more nutrient dense than a refined carbohydrate equivalent) is metabolically just as bad.
Add to this that most of these paleo treat recipes call for copious amounts of nut butter high in omega-6 fats. Most nuts are very high in omega-6 – an essential fatty acid that should be at about a 1:1 or better ratio favoring omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA – abundant in cold water fish, grass-fed meats). While some nuts may have omega-3 in them, compared to omega-6, it’s nearly negligible. Now, mash them up in a concentrated format that’s easy to eat and tastes like heaven, and you have something potentially dangerous. Also, many may make the mistake of using abysmally low-quality oils in the recipe (canola, vegetable oil which often contain already oxidized fats, and even trans fats despite labeling) or an otherwise good oil at high temperature causing it to oxidize (olive oil for example).
Why does this belong in the fat discussion? Because if you want to get on the bus headed for optimal performance, fat loss, longevity, any of that, I can confidently summarize that you ought to learn to quell your sugar tantrums (and subsequent insulin spike and blood sugar crashes), sweet tooth and dessert habits with high-quality fat. Sugary paleo goodies, dried fruit, or even some fresh fruits (the extremely high-GL, sugary tropical ones, enormous apples, oranges, etc.) should be for rare treats.
Limit paleo treats high in sugar and omega-6-dense fats (nut/butters) to once in a while
Limit your intake of nut butters and nuts as a small fraction of your total fat intake
Use high quality oils in your treats (and in cooking in general) – tropical oils, animal fats
Don’t limit your fat intake from whole animal/plant sources; eat these to satiety and then, if you still want something sweet, choose wisely
Check out the suggestions for fatty sweet-tooth-managing
Dietary fat and body fat
Why and where you store it and how to get rid of excess body fat (and why you ought to) is not uncomplicated but it’s certainly not as simple as ‘calories in, calories out’ or dietary percentages of fat. Probably around 80 or so percent of whether/how your body stories too much fat, especially in the mid-section is due to insulin mis/management: too much refined or high glycemic-load (GL) carbohydrate intake. The other 20% or so is due to other related lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, cortisol, lack of nutrient-dense foods (meats, vegetables).
When you’re eating low levels of CHO (50-150g/day based on activity levels) from nutrient dense (mostly vegetable) sources and your fat intake is from high-quality (low omega-6) sources (mostly high-quality animal products and suitable cooking/non-cooking oils), how much fat you eat as it relates to body fat will become a non-issue (more than likely you’ll struggle to get enough of these types to fuel your activities) and your focus will shift to tinkering with your post-workout carbohydrate/protein to help you recover better.
Protein sources of fat
All animal products will contain fat, but any animal’s fat (even lean meats have some and it adds up over time) will reflect the foods the animal was fed or grazed on. If we were to analyze the nutritional facts of the average American’s meat (human meat), it would be pretty toxic – high in omega-6’s, probably plenty of heavy metals and dioxins – reflecting the food they ate (low quality oils, animals fed high-omega-6 diets, and fish and produce tainted with all kinds of metals, toxins and pesticides). The same goes for the animals you eat. 100% grass-fed animals produce both meat and dairy products with low levels of omega-6 and high levels of omega-3 and many other types of fatty acids that are extremely beneficial to health, muscle growth, metabolism, and more.
Don’t skimp on cheap meat; buy 100% grass-fed
If you can’t get 100% grass-fed, go for lean cuts (usually cheaper) and use high-quality cooking oils and supplement with omega-3 EPA+DHA fish oil (which you should be doing anyway)
Vary the sources of protein you eat: eat fatty meats, eat lean meats, eat organ meats, eat it all, especially if it’s from a 100% grass-fed animal. Variety ensures you get a variety of micronutrients and fatty acids.
Meats & Eggs
A variety of meats should be on your plate each week, preferably grass-fed (see above). Eggs are amazing, easy, healthy (please eat the yolks! Take home on saturated fat as part of a paleo diet = very good; as part of a diet high in refined carbs and crappy oils = bad).
Coconut and avocados should be staples of your fatty cache. Coconut milk (full fat) should be a staple of your cooking, and a fresh batch of avocados should be always cycling through your paper bag on the counter ripening. Coconut milk chilled with some cinnamon is a great sweet-tooth-killer. Coconut milk in the ice cube trays: blending possibilities endless.
For cooking: animal fats (grass-fed ghee, tallow), coconut, palm oil, grapeseed oil
Not for cooking, but healthy: olive oil, walnut oil
Look for expeller-pressed — a mechanical rather than heat process used in processing
Lowest omega-6 content by far are macadamia nuts; eat nuts in moderation
Cheap and convenient ideas
$1.80 Unsweetened coconut shreds from Sprouts: 19g fat, 7g CHO in a 1/4c
$2.49 Trader Joe’s sardines packed in olive oil are amazing (don’t turn your nose up till you’ve tried them); pour over a spinach salad with a splash of balsamic and some fresh herbs. 26g protein, 17g fat in a tin
$1.49 Trader Joe’s tuna packed in olive oil – 26g protein, 17g fat in a can
$9/lb Raw mac nuts from Sprouts (10% off if bought in bulk – roast them yourself and freeze)
Whole free-range chicken/chicken parts /other meat + 1-2 cans coconut milk (curry powder optional) in the slow cooker… heaven.
Condiments are hard to find that are free of low-quality oils, corn syrup, other added sugars, gluten, and other crap.