When choosing which healthy foods to include in a nutritious, balanced diet, there are no blanket rules or guarantees. In fact, there’s as much conflicting advice as there are foods to eat! One expert says get enough protein and leave out carbs, while another says cut the sugar, and still another advises you to aim for a “no salt” diet. Then there’s the public debates over which oil is healthier, if wine is helpful or harmful, and which foods adequately fuel your physical exercise. There’s your own unique body, state of health and goals to take into consideration as well, for, much like no two snowflakes being alike, no two people will eat the same foods and get the same results. Most people are aware that there are some things that are considered universally “bad,” however, like trans fats, saturated fats, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial ingredients. And once a food has been branded as “bad for you,” it’s hard to see it in any other light. Take fat, for instance. There are some who argue that including foods with healthy fats in your diet is better for you than the low fat, high grain approach many experts recommend. Is fat an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet?
In a word, yes. Eating the right kinds of fat in the right amounts is essential for good health, and is especially important for the brain. Our bodies use food as fuel, and different foods work differently to provide us with the energy we need for daily tasks, body functions, and physical activities. Some foods provide a burst of energy that quickly fades. Some provide sustained energy that carries us through to the next meal. Some foods provide some energy, but along with it sodium, chemicals, and empty calories that do more harm than good. And although it seems backwards from how we’ve been taught to eat, the foods that contain carbs (bagels, grains, breads, pastas, cereals and the like are actually a more undesirable form of fuel, while foods containing fat, even saturated fat, are better choices to properly fuel the body. In fact, many carb-heavy foods actually provide less energy…and can make you gain weight!
Your body is designed to use one of two sources of fuel: sugar or fat. Our ancestors mostly relied on fats to fuel them, but today the tables have turned and most people get their energy from sugars. The fallout from this switch is immense. It includes small noticeable consequences, such as the dreaded afternoon slump (when your body has run out of fuel), to big ones such as the onset of chronic diseases. Although it seems at first to be counter-intuitive (why would I want to eat more fat?), it actually makes sense. If your body takes in the right amount of healthy fats from nuts, oil, meat and the like, then it will use the stored fat for energy, lead to less dietary fat being stored because it’s being used instead, and will use fat for fuel while exercising, which will ensure fat is burned, not the burst of energy that came from heavy carb consumption before a workout. Plus, if your body is using stored fat for energy, there won’t be an overload of stored fat that could interfere with your body’s production of Human Growth Hormone!
As with any health advice, it’s important to balance your intake of fats with other healthy items (especially healthy carbohydrates from vegetables, not from sugar-heavy carb sources) in order to help your body work as efficiently as possible. When your body relies on healthy fats for energy, you’ll notice you have less carb cravings, possible weight loss, and the ability to make it through a workout without packing in the carbs beforehand.