It may sound crazy, but replacing sugars and refined carbs with natural healthy fats (as you do on a low-carb diet like Atkins) may help you lose weight, and keep it off. As long as you are controlling your carbs, the calories from fat are used directly for energy and are unlikely to be stored in places like your belly, hips and thighs and anywhere else you would rather not carry extra pounds.
Why is this? Although fat has more calories (9) per gram than protein (4) or carbohydrates (4), it’s what fat does when it enters your body that is important. If you’re young and active, you may be able to eat lots of fat—and carbs—and stay slim. But as you grow older, your metabolism and activity level may slow. If you keep up your high-fat/high-carb eating habits, you’re likely to pile on the pounds. And, if you’re already overweight and eating lots of carbs, it’s very difficult to tap into your excess body fat as an energy source. Cutting down on carbs (and eating the right kind of carbs) releases you from this fat-holding roller coaster. Controlling your carb intake lets your body recover its capacity to burn fat, so your fat intake can be relatively high without any adverse effect on your weight or health.
In addition, along with protein, fat helps you feel full. And because fat carries flavor, it makes food more satisfying. It takes twice as many calories from refined carbs than from fats to provide the same level of fullness, which makes fat a better choice if you want to lose weight. Dietary fat also slows the entry of glucose into your blood stream, which keeps your blood sugar in check and means you’re less likely to be as hungry after eating fat than you’d be after eating refined carbs.
Fat metabolism is perfectly natural for your body, and the fastest path to fat burning is during Phase 1 (Induction) of Atkins. During this time, you wean your body away from its carb and sugar habit. It may take several weeks to fully convert your metabolism to primarily burning fat, but after the first week of controlling your carbs, you’ll be most of the way there.
Here are the different types of fats you should be eating (and the ones you should avoid):
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are found in olive oil, canola oil, and in walnuts and most other nuts, as well as avocados. MUFAs are usually liquid at room temperature.
- Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are always liquid both at room temperature and in the refrigerator. They’re found mostly in oils from vegetables, seeds and some nuts. Sunflower, safflower, flaxseed, soybean, corn, cottonseed, grape seed and sesame oils are high in PUFAs. So are the oils in fatty fish such as sardines, herring and salmon.
- Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are two families of compounds of dietary fats that your body can’t produce on its own. Both omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs are PUFAs essential to your health and well being. Omega-3s are found in the fat of shellfish and cold-water fish. Omega-6s are found primarily in seeds and grains, as well as in chickens and pigs. Unless you’re eating a very-low-fat diet, you are most likely getting more than the recommended amount of omega-6s.
- Focus on the right balance of PUFAs: Eat foods or take supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as shellfish, cold-water ocean fish and fish oil (salmon, tuna, sardines, herring and anchovies, as well as non-fish sources such as flaxseed, almonds, walnuts and canola oil). Avoid corn, soybean, cottonseed and peanut oils, which are all high in omega-6s.
- Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) tend to remain solid at room temperature. Butter, lard, suet and palm and coconut oils are relatively rich in saturated fats. This type of fat is fine to consume on an Atkins-type diet because we know that the body burns primarily fat on Atkins and we know from published research that the level of saturated fat in the blood when you are following Atkins does not increase.
- The only dietary fats on Atkins you should truly avoid are trans fats. An increased intake of trans fats is associated with an increased heart attack risk, and most recently they have been shown to increase the body’s level of inflammation. They are typically found in foods you should be avoiding already, including fried foods, baked goods, cookies, crackers, candies, snack foods, icings and vegetable shortenings. As long as a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, a manufacturer can claim its product is free of trans fats. To be sure there are no trans fats in a product, check the list of ingredients, where trans fats are listed as “shortening” or “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” If you see any of these words in the ingredients list, just say no. You should also avoid deep-fried foods in fast-food and other restaurants.
How Much Fat is Just Right?
You should eat enough natural fats to provide satiety, keep your fat metabolism humming along, and make foods tasty. But that doesn’t mean you should eat so much that you wind up with a calorie bomb. Use enough oil when sautéing food to keep it from sticking to the pan. Use about a tablespoon of oil (plus lemon juice or vinegar) to dress a salad. A typical day’s intake of fat might include the following:
- 2 Tbsp. oil dressing salads and for cooking
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 2 Tbsp. cream
- 2 oz. cheese
- 2–3 eggs (eggs contain a mix of both saturated and unsaturated fat)
- 2–3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish
- 10 olives and/or
- ½ Haas avocado
- 2 oz. nuts or seeds (after the first two weeks of Induction)
*Note: These are general guidelines. Petite women may need less and tall men may be able to have more. You may swap out more cream, for example, if you cut back on say, cheese.
The Scoop on Oils
- For stir-frying, canola, peanut, and grapeseed oil are recommended, especially if "cold-pressed" or "expeller-pressed".
- Avoid corn, soy, safflower, and sunflower oil except in small amounts, and not heated (these have high amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.) Again, cold-pressed or expeller-pressed oils are recommended, or look for high-oleic sunflower and safflower oils, which are made from seeds bred to have high levels of monounsaturated fat and low levels of omega-6 polyunsaturated fats.
- When choosing mayonnaise, choose regular full-fat mayonnaise, preferably using the guidelines above for types of oils used.
- Coconut oil contains a particularly good form of fat known as MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Consume one tablespoon of coconut oil a day (you can use it in place of another healthy fat, like olive oil).