It’s quite likely that over the years, you’ve tried any number of diets before discovering Atkins. Back in the day, low fat was what everyone thought was the way to go. Remember all those low-fat and fat-free products you thought you could eat because the popular belief was that fat made us fat? And what did you discover during this diet phase? Low-fat and fat-free contribute to weight gain just as easily.
The reality now? It’s time to stop thinking of dietary fat as your enemy. In fact, fat is a key source of energy and essential nutrients, and you can’t live without it. Replacing sugars and refined carbohydrates (the main components of all those low-fat and fat-free foods) may have actually caused the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes we are experiencing today.
Now we know that natural fats play a key role in helping with weight control. In fact, fat can be a high-energy food that gives you a metabolic edge, what we call the Atkins Edge. When you increase your intake of fat in place of carbs, you’ll experience a higher and more consistent energy level. Yes, adequate fat is essential, especially on Atkins, and it will help you achieve your weight loss and weight maintenance goals.
Fat, like protein, helps keep you full for longer. And since it carries flavor, it makes food more satisfying. In other words, you could probably consume 500 calories of fat and feel more full and satisfied than 1,000 calories of refined carbs. Even better, when you eat fat, it slows the entry of glucose into the bloodstream, moderating the highs and lows of blood sugar. So instead of that crash and burn after eating carbs, and return of your hunger soon after, fat helps moderate your appetite and your cravings.
Here’s a fat cheat sheet, starting with the three main classes:
- 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.
When it comes to Atkins, the only dietary fat 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.
If you follow the previous guidelines, fat can be your friend and even help you lose weight.