What if I told you that eating fats don’t actually make you fat?
Or if I told you that you could enjoy some bacon and eggs for breakfast followed by a beautiful steak for dinner most nights of the week and your health would still be just fine – Is that something you might be interested in?
If so, stick with me because as the nutrition pendulum swings from “fats are evil” to “carbs are evil”, the truth is, as always, somewhere in the middle. This brings a lot of grey area and very little black and white.
To this end, today we’re going to dive into the reality of how fats in food affect your health, and if you need to be concerned about them.
In the Blue Phoenix Simple Guide To Eating Fats you’ll learn:
- What Is Fat, Exactly?
- What’s The Difference Between Saturated & Unsaturated Fat?
- Healthy Fat vs. Unhealthy Fat
- Is Eating Red Meat Really As Bad As Smoking?
- What Foods Have Fat In Them?
- Where To Find Healthy Fats
- How Much Fat Should I Be Eating?
That’s a lot to cover, so let’s get started…
What Is Fat, Exactly?
Before we even get to that, it’s very important to differentiate between dietary fats and body fat.
For example, dietary fats are found in foods like olive oil, red meat and doughnuts.
In comparison, body fat is stored energy in our body that can sometimes make us feel a little squishy.
When we’re talking about fats for this guide, we’ll be talking about dietary fats unless otherwise stated.
Now, where were we? Oh right, what is (dietary) fat…
In science terms, fats are organic molecules made up of hydrogen and carbon elements joined together in long chains called hydrocarbons. These chains can be organized in different ways which creates different types of fat. The structure also determines whether a particular fat is healthy or unhealthy.
There are 3 main types of fats – saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The difference between them is their bond structure; this is what holds the carbon and hydrogen elements together.
Saturated fats have no double bonds. This means that every carbon has 2 hydrogens attached to it – thus they are “saturated” with hydrogens. Because of this chemical structure, saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature.
You’d find saturated fats more commonly in animal meat, coconut oil, palm oil and most dairy. Processed meats and fried foods also carry saturated fats.
Saturated fats have taken the brunt of the “fats are evil” debate since the 1980’s, but this has been shown in current research to be completely unwarranted.
As long as your focus is on mostly unprocessed, whole-food sources of saturated fats there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. If you tend to have high cholesterol issues, you may want to eat a little bit less. But that’s obviously something to discuss with your doctor.
Just focus on the foods we lay out for you later in this guide and you’ll be good to go.
Unsaturated fats have 1 or more double bonds. Monounsaturated fats would have 1 double bond and polyunsaturated fats would have more than 1. As a result, these double bonds mean that not all carbons have 2 hydrogens.
This chemical structure means there are many different forms of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, depending where the double bonds lie.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in foods such as:
- Almonds, pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts
- Canola oil
- Nut butters
Because of their multiple double bonds, polyunsaturated fats can be further broken down into Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats.
You’d find Omega-3 fats in foods like fatty fish (i.e. fish oil), flax seed, chia seed and other nuts or seeds.
Omega-6 is more commonly found in seeds, seed/vegetable oils and nuts such as:
- Canola oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Corn oil
- Pumpkin seeds
Healthy Fats vs Unhealthy Fats
As I mentioned above, saturated fats have come under fire over the last few decades as being “unhealthy”, while most (if not all) unsaturated fats have been touted as “healthy”.
Like most things in nutrition, the reality isn’t quite so black and white.
Recent analysis of past research studies have shown pretty clearly that the claims against saturated fat were unwarranted and based on poorly designed, biased research. As a result, much of this research was being funded or influenced by corporations with their own agendas – *cough*Coca-Cola*cough*.
Is Eating Red Meat As Bad As Smoking?
More recently, you’ve probably seen that headline floating around. Aside from biased funding and influence, the research studies against saturated fat also did not differentiate between food sources.
For instance, I think we can all agree that there is a very big difference between a beautiful, grass-fed ribeye steak and…a hot dog. We don’t need PhD’s to figure that out.
Unfortunately, the researchers didn’t think that was a big deal, so they lumped all meat – everything from ultra-processed bologna to ribeye steaks – into the same category. And none of the red meat used was from grass-fed, pastured animals.
So, yeah, there were a few pretty glaring issues with the results. But it sure makes for a good headline, right?
Verdict: If your saturated fat intake is coming from mostly unprocessed, high-quality foods like beef (ideally grass-fed, pastured), organ meats, coconut milk, coconut oil and dairy (if tolerated), you’re going to be fine.
With this in mind, eat less highly-processed foods and more unprocessed, whole-foods.
Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fat
Polyunsaturated fats (Omega-3 and -6) have long been touted as “healthy”, again with no differentiation between food sources.
Humans have eaten foods with these kinds of fats forever, but one glaring difference is the balance between Omega-6 and -3 fatty acids.
Way back in hunter-gatherer days, research shows we were probably around a 1:1 ratio. In other words we probably ate equal amounts of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in our diet.
Today, however, we’re closer to a 20:1 ratio.
One big reason for this unbalanced ratio is the industrialization of seed oils like canola oil and corn oil, which is in almost every processed food available and is very high in Omega-6. These are also the most common oils used in cooking.
On the flip side, we’re also eating less foods high in Omega-3 fats, causing this unbalanced relationship.
But does this even matter? Well, unfortunately it’s unclear.
Some research shows higher Omega-6 consumption is associated with higher inflammation in the body, while other research shows the opposite.
In my opinion, there needs to be differentiation between food sources.
Omega-6 fats from a handful of walnuts is probably O.K. because it comes along with Omega-3 fats and other nutrients. However, we should probably limit or avoid the highly-processed, industrialized seed/vegetable oils.
I almost forgot to mention these fats because they’ve been largely eliminated from our food supply thanks to food regulations.
This is one area that the food regulators actually got right. Artificial trans fats have absolutely zero nutrition benefit and only cause harm to our body.
They’re the only ingredient I can think of that has a Recommended Daily Value of “0 grams” because there is no safe amount to consume, but still shows up on nutrition labels because it still sneaks into some ultra-processed foods.
So what are trans fats and why are they so bad?
Trans fats are a form of unsaturated fat that shows up in 2 places:
- They show up naturally in grass-eating animal meat and dairy. The trans fats are formed from bacteria in the stomach when these animals digest grass. These naturally occurring trans fats are minimal and have been shown to be non-harmful.
- Artificial trans fats are created through the hydrogenation process of oils (i.e. hydrogenated vegetable oil) to prevent them from becoming rancid. These artificial trans fats have been linked to heart disease, stroke, inflammation, diabetes and elevated LDL cholesterol.
Not surprisingly, naturally found sources are non-harmful and artificial trans fats have all kinds of nasty effects on us.
This is also why I recommend avoiding most vegetable oils because they’re typically partially-hydrogenated and still contain these artificial trans fats. This would include canola oil, safflower oil and vegetable oil.
Keep It Simple
To keep things simple, there are 3 things we should do when it comes to eating fat:
- Eat more high quality foods with Omega-3 fats like wild-caught fish, nuts and seeds
- Use less seed/vegetable oils and more olive oil, avocado oil or coconut oil
- Don’t fear saturated fat, but don’t go crazy either. Enjoy moderate amounts of high-quality beef, organ meats, coconut milk and coconut oil
Where To Find Fat In Food
We’ve already given a lot of examples above, but let’s lay it out even more clear for you. These lists will include all food – healthy and unhealthy – and then we’ll differentiate in the next section.
TRANS FAT IN FOOD (Avoid)
- All partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil)
- Vegetable Shortening
- Some microwave popcorn
- Most margarines
- Fried Foods (using the oils on this list)
- Baked goods that use shortening or margarine
SATURATED FAT IN FOOD
- Beef products
- Dairy products
- Coconut oil, coconut milk
- Sausages, bacon
- Cured meats like salami, pastrami etc.
- Pastries, baked goods, cakes, cookies etc.
MONOUNSATURATED FAT IN FOOD
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Avocado oil
- Peanut oil
- Nuts; almonds, cashews, pecans, macadamia
- Nut butters
POLYUNSATURATED FAT IN FOOD
- Omega-3 fats
- Fatty fish; salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, herring
- Seeds; chia, flax
- Flaxseed oil
- Canola oil
- Soybean oil
- Omega-6 fats
- Soybean oil
- Corn oil
- Canola oil
- Most nuts and seeds
- Grain-fed meat, poultry
These lists give you a lot of options, but as discussed earlier, not all fats are created equal.
Because of this, with our Blue Phoenix Coaching clients we prefer to focus on eating more Healthy Fats…
Finding Healthy Fats
When it comes to finding healthy fats, we want to aim for eating more unprocessed, whole-foods and less ultra-processed foods.
With this in mind, we want to aim for as close to whole-food sources of all forms of fats. If something *has* ingredients (i.e. margarine), it’s processed. If a food *is* an ingredient (i.e. almonds), it’s likely not processed.
Here are some Healthy Fat foods we want to include in our balanced, whole-food focused diet:
- High-quality beef products (ideally grass-fed, pastured and local)
- Free-run, pastured poultry products; chicken, turkey, duck
- Pastured pork products; ham, bacon, pork chops
- Eggs (ideally from free-run, pastured chickens)
- Wild-caught fatty fish; salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines
- Nuts; almonds, pecans, cashews, walnuts, macadamia, Brazil nuts, pistachios
- Almond butter, cashew butter
- Full-fat dairy from grass-fed cows
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (cold-pressed in a dark bottle)
- Avocado Oil
- Macadamia Nut Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Coconut Milk, Coconut Cream
- Chia, Hemp, Flax seeds
Now that we know where to find our Healthy Fats, you’re probably wondering – “How much fat should I eat??”
How Much Fat Should I Eat?
This is a hard question to answer because as always, it depends.
But the first thing I want to clear up before we get into how much fat you should eat, is this…
EATING FAT WILL NOT AUTOMATICALLY MAKE YOU GAIN BODY FAT. EATING TOO MUCH OF ANYTHING CAN POTENTIALLY MAKE US GAIN BODY FAT.
If you still have a fear of eating healthy fats because you think you’re going to gain body fat, it’s time to eliminate that fear from your mind for good.
So, how much fat should you eat?
This is going to largely depend on your goals, body type, activity level and of course, eating preferences.
If you prefer to eat a little bit of a higher fat and lower carb diet (i.e. a Paleo or Keto style diet), then that’s fine.
Maybe you prefer a more balanced “Blue Phoenix approach” and that’s great too.
The main thing with eating healthy is finding a way to eat that fits your lifestyle and eating preferences while allowing you to achieve (or maintain) your goals.
With that said, there’s 2 methods we can use to figure out how much fat you should be eating:
- Calculating total calories, calculating percentage of fats & weighing your food
- The BP Hand Method
With our BP Coaching clients we usually don’t jump into calculations and weighing your food until Level 2 & 3 because for most people it’s just not necessary.
Diving into the world of calorie calculations and weighing your food is beyond the scope for this Simple Guide, but let’s do a quick example…
Let’s say you decide you want to eat 2000 calories/day. You’ve decided this based on your goals, body type and lifestyle.
You’ve also decided that you prefer to eat a balanced Blue Phoenix style diet of:
- Carbs = 33%
- Protein = 33%
- Fats = 33%
This means we’ll be eating 660 calories/day of fat.
2000 total calories * 33% = 660 calories/day
Since every 1 gram of fat carries 9 calories, this means we’ll be aiming for 73 grams/day of fat.
660 calories / 9 grams/calorie = 73 grams of fat/day
Then we’d go back and do the same thing for carbs (4 calories/gram) and protein (4 calories/gram).
After that, you’d start weighing and measuring every piece of food that enters your mouth every single day.
Sounds like fun, right?
As you can see, this method can be very precise and can lead to great results, but for most people it’s just not sustainable. And to be honest, it’s not necessary.
So, we prefer to make things really easy for our Blue Phoenix Coaching clients…
The BP Hand Method For Measuring Fats
The hand method has been around for a long time and really helps to simplify the process of portion control.
When a new BP Coaching client starts with us, this is always where we start. Until you’re able to consistently eat using the BP Hand Method there’s no need to get into the added hassle of weighing your food.
We’ve found that most people are quite happy with the results they get simply by using the BP Hand Method and never need to get into weighing their food.
The best part about this method is that it’s extremely simple and very sustainable.
So, here’s what I want you to do:
- Stick out your thumb and look at it
- That’s it, you’re done.
For fats, we’re going to use your thumb length as our portion size guide. Pretty easy, right?
1 serving of fats = 1 “thumb length”
We want to aim for a serving size of Healthy Fats to be the length of your thumb (for oils and nut butters this would be 1 tbsp). Then, each day you’re going to aim for 1-2 “thumb length” sized servings of Healthy Fats with your meals, or 3-6 “thumb lengths” per day.
If you’re a bigger person or you prefer a higher fat diet, you’ll aim for the higher end of 6 “thumb lengths”/day.
If you’re a smaller person or prefer a lower fat diet, you might aim for the lower end of 3 “thumb lengths”/day.
Other variables to consider when choosing how many “thumb lengths” you need might be:
- Your current goals
- Your body size, composition or caloric needs
- How active you are
- Your eating preferences
- How frequently you eat
- Your appetite or satiety levels
- Your progress
These are all things we help our Blue Phoenix Coaching clients with. So if you’d like a little bit more help figuring this out for yourself, I highly recommend checking out the Blue Phoenix Fitness Coaching Experience.
Ready To Kick Things Up A Notch?
This Simple Guide has no doubt given you plenty of tools and strategies to begin eating healthy and living your most awesome life!
But if you’re wanting to go a bit further or you’re looking for some extra personalized help, I have 2 options for you…
If you want step-by-step, personalized guidance on exactly what you need to do to reach your fitness or weight loss goals…
- Customized workout program
- Specific lifestyle-based nutrition plan
- 100% access to your personal coach at all times
Then you’ll want to apply for our awesome 1-1 Blue Phoenix Fitness Online Coaching Experience.
Looking for some workouts you can do at home with no-equipment and limited time?
Drop by and and say hello 👋.
Stay strong and live awesome, my friend.