You might think that to lose weight, you need to cut the fat out of your
meals. After all, fat is higher in calories than protein and carbs, and low-fat
diets have been popular since the Senate Nutrition Committee first recommended
them in the late 1970s. But research shows that a moderate-fat diet (with about
35 percent of calories consumed coming from fat) will help you drop pounds
permanently, feel full longer, and avoid bingeing. The trick is to eat the right
kind of fat to increase satisfaction and boost weight loss. Here's why it's
important to eat fat—and we offer five of the best fat sources to add to your
How eating fat will help you lose fat.
In 2008, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel found
that people who followed low-fat diets lost less weight than people who followed
low-carb or moderate-fat diets. The low-fat group lost an average of 6.5 pounds
over 2 years, but the low-carb and moderate-fat groups lost about 10 pounds.
Women did especially well on the moderate-fat diet, losing an average of 13
pounds during the study.
Fat is an important element in weight loss for several reasons:
- Fat helps your body control blood sugar and insulin spikes after eating
carbohydrates. Better sugar metabolism means less fat storage.
- Fat slows down digestion and aids nutrient absorption. You'll stay fuller
longer and get more health benefits from the food you eat.
- Essential fatty acids (like omega-3s) may boost your metabolic rate and
increase fat burning.
- Fat tastes good. It also provides a "mouthfeel" that is satisfying, which
can help you be happy with less food.
Eating more fat may also help you stick to your diet longer. In a study
conducted by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, participants got either 20
percent of their calories from fat or 35 percent of their calories from fat.
After 6 months, both groups had lost weight. But after 18 months, only 20
percent of the people in the low-fat group were still following the diet,
compared with 54 percent of the people in the moderate-fat group. Likewise, the
subjects in the moderate-fat group had maintained their weight loss, while the
low-fat group participants had gained most of the weight back.
If you reach for a box of low-fat or fat-free crackers or cookies because you
want to lose weight, you may actually be sabotaging your diet. Manufacturers
frequently replace fat with sugar in packaged food items to make them taste
better. You think you're making a good decision by eating fat-free products, but
the excess sugar and refined flour can lead to fatigue, cravings, mood swings,
and weight gain caused by the overproduction of insulin—the fat-storage hormone.
As a snack, a sliced apple with some peanut butter or a salad with oil and
vinegar dressing would be a better weight loss choice. The complex carbs and
healthy fats will maintain your blood sugar levels, boost your energy, and keep
you satisfied longer.
What kind of fat should you eat?
To get lean, you need to eat the right kind of fat. Avoid saturated and trans
fats (which are found in red meat, full-fat dairy products, and many packaged
foods), and instead choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Here are
some of the best sources of fat to help you reach your weight goal.
- Fish. Fish like salmon, albacore tuna, herring, mackerel, and
sardines contains beneficial amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most experts agree
that eating two servings of fatty fish per week is safe for people who are
worried about mercury or other toxins. (Pregnant women should consult with their
doctors about consuming fish.) If you don't like fish, a quality supplement like
Omega-3™ will give you the benefits without the fishy taste.
- Olive oil. Heart-healthy oils like
olive, canola, and peanut oil are excellent sources of fat for dieters. They
have also been shown to lower bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart
disease. Use them sparingly when sautéing, or drizzle them over your favorite
salad or vegetables with a little vinegar and some herbs to maximize the
absorption of nutrients. Moderation is important: You really only need about a
teaspoon of oil to get all its benefits. Using more will add significant
- Avocados. Eat a spinach and carrot
salad with a little avocado, and you'll not only get a dose of good fat, but
you'll also absorb more phytonutrients like lutein and beta-carotene. Scientists
at Ohio State University in Columbus found that more antioxidants were absorbed
when people ate a salad containing avocados than when they ate a salad without
this tasty fruit. One-quarter of an avocado will add flavor while only adding
about 75 calories.
- Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and
peanuts are powerhouses of good nutrition—full of antioxidants, minerals, and
monounsaturated fat. The Nurses Health Study, where more than 86,000 nurses were
followed for 14 years, found that those who ate nuts regularly (about an ounce
per day) tended to weigh less than those who didn't. The protein, fat, and fiber
make nuts more filling, which helps dieters stay on track. Plus, there's a
psychological bonus to eating nuts: Because they're rich and satisfying, you
probably won't feel like you're on a diet.
- Flaxseeds. Packing the triple wallop
of fat, protein, and fiber, flaxseeds are a delicious and healthful addition to
any diet. You can grind them up and add them to oatmeal, yogurt, salads, or
vegetables, or pretty much anywhere you want a nutty crunch. They're a plant
source of omega-3 fatty acids, making them a good choice for vegetarians or the
aforementioned non-fish-loving folks. Ground flaxseeds also have 3 grams of
fiber per tablespoon, which helps slow digestion and keep your blood sugar