The Skinny on Healthy Fats
In learning to follow the container system and implement the principles in your life, one of the most important concepts to grasp is that of healthy fats. Simply put, some fats promote better health and others detract from your health. Personally I'd rather understand the reasoning behind this, rather than just having a "must eat" and a "do not eat" list. I put this explanation together for my clients who are similarly curious, and who feel that they retain information better when they understand the reasoning.
All of the fats allowed by the container system food lists are healthy fats—know that for starters. Within the lists for the different color containers are different types of healthy fats.
Foods on the blue container list—nuts and especially avocados—have mostly monounsaturated fatty acids. These are the heart-healthy fats that help mop up bad cholesterol and scrub out our blood vessels if they are starting to get clogged! Amazing stuff. Also on the blue list is hummus, whose fat content mostly comes from olive oil, which is why hummus is on this list. (Chickpeas by themselves count as yellow, since they contain barely any fat.)
Also on the blue container list is cheese, which on the other hand, contains primarily saturated fat—which for years was considered a dirty word. Now the tide is starting to turn and many people (including myself) believe fat from healthy animals has a place in a healthy diet. Consuming saturated fat in moderation contributes to heart health, strong bones, immune function, nerve signaling in the body, and the health of the brain, liver, and lungs.
Moving on to the orange container list, the seeds listed (pumpkin, sunflower, flax) all have those heart-healthy, wonder-food monounsaturated fatty acids (same as an avocado). However, they don't have as much protein as some of the foods on the blue list, and the ratio of monounsaturated to polyunsaturated is also lower. Polyunsaturated is the kind found in most cooking oils (soybean oil, canola, vegetable oil) and also in lots of processed foods. Your body does need this type of fat, but most of us get plenty of it without really trying just through eating at restaurants once in a while.
The last two items on the orange list are a little bit different... Peanuts are actually legumes, and are more commonly an allergen or irritant, although people can be allergic to either peanuts or tree nuts or both. Compared to tree nuts, peanuts have a higher proportion of saturated fat, whereas tree nuts are higher in monounsaturated.
The fats contained in coconut, also on the orange container list, are also saturated. This is a plant-based form and not the same type of saturated fat as comes from animal products, but it still affects the body differently than monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
This brings us to our teaspoon list, since coconut oil appears there and it's the exact same type of fat as in shredded coconut. Read more about the different types of saturated fat, and why plant-based differs from saturated fat sourced from animals.
The interesting thing about coconut oil is that it's very high in medium-chain triglycerides, which are rapidly metabolized and easily burned as energy—and thus less likely to be stored as fat! This is why I've incorporated coconut oil into my baking (I use it to grease pans) and cooking as much as I can.
As for the other fats on the teaspoon list: olive oil = monounsaturated (remember, our heart-healthy wonder food). This is probably the biggest reason for the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Flaxseed and walnut oil are polyunsaturated, although these are the more heart-healthy omega 3 that's commonly known to be found in fish (as opposed to the less beneficial omega 6 found in vegetable and canola oil). Pumpkin seed oil has omega 6. These last three options can be nice alternatives to use on your salad though, if you get sick of olive oil and want something that tastes a little different. The nut butters and seed butters are a mix of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and plant-based saturated (in varying proportions depending on which nut). Look for nut butters that are literally just ground-up nuts and maybe a bit of salt—no added sugar, no preservatives.
In general, I want you to know that fat is not the enemy! In fact, it can severely hold back weight loss if you are not getting enough fat. Your body needs fat for many basic functions! Instead of trying to cut fat out, focus on sensible portions and choosing healthy fats whenever possible.
Want to work together to get more of the good stuff into your diet, and gradually cut down on the foods that aren't serving you? Check out my upcoming programs or send me an email at the address below and we can go over the available options!