A glass of coconut-based smoothie with half a coconut in the background and a wooden teaspoon next to it

We’ve been told for years that the best way to lose weight is to cut fat from our diet. Fat contains more calories per gram than protein or carbs, so eating less fat means consuming less total calories, and therefore weight loss follows, right? Wrong.

The problem with this concept is that not all calories are equal and the body responds in different ways to the foods that we eat. Healthy fats can actually help with weight loss by increasing satiety and speeding up the metabolism. Let’s take a closer look at how this happens.

The Fat Basics: Healthy fats, like the ones that come from whole, unprocessed, not-fried foods, are a necessary macronutrient. They are the building blocks of our hormones, brain and nerve tissue, and the protective layer around our cells. They are used to control inflammation, absorb vital nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K, and help to maintain eye health. Fat is also used as a source of energy. Once the energy obtained from carbohydrates is spent, which occurs after the first 20 minutes of exercise, the body turns to the calories from fat. It is in this state that the body begins to burn fat as its primary energy source, preserving muscle tissue and leaning out the body.

The How: There are a few ways in which increasing your intake of healthy fats can help keep you in your skinny jeans. It’s all a matter of ratio, the quality of fats chosen and re-training the body.

Stay Full Longer

Fatty foods are more filling by nature. They are burned at a slower rate by the body, which is why you can typically make it to your next meal without snacking. Fats are extremely satiating, preventing you from overeating or reaching for that extra piece of bread. When fat is consumed it sets off the release of cholecystokinin (CCK) and the gut hormone peptide YY (PYY). These two hormones then help to control appetite and satiety. When fat is consumed, these hormones cause a decrease in appetite, suppressing hunger and making you feel full. If you feel more satiated, you’ll be less likely to overeat or snack later.

Increase Metabolism

Certain fats, like the ones found in palm and coconut oil, are known to increase metabolism. These fats, called MCTs, have an unusual chemical structure that allows the body to digest them more easily, turning them into fuel rather than stored fat. MCTs can stimulate fat burning, thyroid function and energy production. Some studies have found that eating MCTs on a regular basis produces improvements in body composition (ratio of fat to lean tissue) and enhances athletic performance, helping with weight loss.

Alternate Fuel Source

When the body is fed higher proportions of healthy fats it is trained to use fat as a preferred energy source. This occurs when sugars and carbohydrates are reduced, forcing the body to turn to fat stores and ingested fat for fuel. By following this model, the body is re-trained, and the fat ingested is quickly utilized resulting in a high ratio of lean muscle mass to percent body fat.

Fill your plate: The best fats to eat are unsaturated fats, both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, and clean sources of saturated fat. These include omega-3 fatty acids, and medium-chain triglycerides. They can be found in both plant and animal sources such as olives, coconuts and free-range eggs.

TCM Pick: Coconut oil, coconut meat, raw nuts and seeds, chia, flax, hemp, olives, olive oil, avocado, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, cacao butter, eggs, grass-fed bison, wild salmon, sardines, organic ghee (clarified butter), organic yogurt and full-milk kefir.

Steer Clear: Choosing the right types of fats is key, since not all fats are good for you. Only eat fats that come from whole foods that are not highly heated or processed. Fats, or lipids, are very delicate and can easily be damaged by heat and light. Once damaged, they have a negative impact on health and can lead to inflammatory conditions and poor cardiovascular health. Avoid all fried foods, barbequed meats, and processed foods. Only purchase oils that are stored in a dark glass bottle.

Purchase only organic meats, dairy and wild-caught fish. Fat acts as a storage device for toxins in the body, so if the animal was raised poorly raised with the use of hormones, antibiotics and GMO-feed, or in toxic waters, then the quality of their fat is compromised. Avoid conventionally raised meats and dairy, and farm-raised fish. Look for grass-fed, hormone-free, non-GMO, wild-caught labels.

Highly processed fats found in baked goods, convenience and packaged foods, snacks and desserts are highly detrimental to health. They are called trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils, and research shows that they lead to metabolic disease, memory loss, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Avoid trans fats and partially hydrogenated oil/fat, shortening, and margarine.

TCM Takeaway: Like all things, moderation is key. Healthy fats help keep the body lean, only if eaten in moderation. Be mindful of the portion sizes, and allow the extra fat to crowd out other foods such as carbohydrates. P.S. – the coconut smoothie pictured comes from Pressed Juicery’s book Juice and can be found here.

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