What are ‘healthy fats’?
It wasn’t too long ago that leading health experts believed that fat was all-around bad news for your health. But—thankfully!—an emerging body of research is proving the opposite to be true: certain types of fat actually improve our health. Most of this “healthy fat” science focuses on two main categories of unsaturated fats—monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs). PUFAs, which include omega-3 fatty acids, help regulate inflammation and appear to play a role in everything from heart health to mood and happiness. MUFAs may reduce bad cholesterol and increase the good kind. MUFAs also appear to target and shrink dangerous belly fat linked with metabolic disorders. These good-for-you unsaturated fats are critical for your head-to-toe health—and here are some clues that you might need to load up on more good fats in your daily meals.
You’re having trouble losing weight
It sounds completely counterintuitive, but you need to eat fat to burn fat. Katherine Zeratsky, RD, a registered dietitian at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told Fitness magazine that eating a small amount of unsaturated fats at each meal will help you feel more satisfied over a longer period of time, and therefore consume less overall. When it comes to the low-fat vs. low-carb weight loss debate, the latest science squarely favors low-carb diets. A randomized study from the National Institutes of Health recently found that low-carb eaters lost more weight (about eight pounds) than low-fat dieters over a 12-month period.
You’re always hungry
If you leave the dinner table only to feel pangs of hunger again soon afterward, you might not be consuming the right kinds of fat to help fill you up. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition measured the effect of eating different kinds of fats on satiety and food intake, among other things. Fifteen subjects consumed different kinds of fat at their meals or none at all. The results showed that participants who consumed unsaturated fat felt more full after every meal. Of course, eating more fiber or loading up on lean protein can also help ward away hunger longer.
You have inexplicably dry skin
It’s not from the sun, weather, or a lack of lotion, so why is your skin always dry? It might be related to a lack of healthy fats in your diet, according to Los Angeles dermatologist Jessica Wu, MD, who wrote the book Feed Your Face. “All of your skin cells are wrapped in a protective bubble of fats that helps to protect the skin from drying out and dehydrating, and it also helps to keep out harmful substances in your environment,” said Wu. “If you have a problem with the skin barrier, your skin looks and feels dry, and can be more prone to eczema rashes. In severe cases your skin can actually visibly crack and bleed.” Loading up on more unsaturated fats may reverse the trend, but Wu cautions overdoing it: a little will go a long way. These home remedies for dry hands and feet can soothe your skin.
You’re low on energy
Your heart gets 70 percent of its fuel from fat, which is packed with energy, notes Hossein Ardehali, MD, a cardiologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Fats provide 9 calories per gram, which is more than double the calories found in the same amount of carbohydrates or protein. Yes, that means there are way more calories in an avocado than in an apple, but if you constantly feel like you’re running on empty, it might be time for more (healthy) fat-rich snacks.
You have trouble concentrating
Your brain is 60 percent fat, and it needs fat to keep running efficiently, according to Greatist.com. A diet high in monounsaturated fats, which you can find in foods like olive oil, safflower oil, nuts and nut butters, increases production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important in the functioning of learning and memory processes. On the other hand, these foods might make you dumb.
The vitamins you eat aren’t doing their job
You make sure you’re noshing on foods abundant with vitamins A, D, E and K, but maybe you’re not reaping their healthy benefits. Without adequate vitamin A, you could have dry eyes and skin, for example; without enough vitamin C, you could have prolonged wound healing time and more bruising. All four of these vitamins require fats in order to be absorbed and used by your body. This is why you should skip fat-free salad dressing—you won’t absorb as many nutrients from your leafy greens.
You’re constantly cold
Seals have extra padding for a reason: The ocean is a chilly place. You, too, are supposed to carry a small layer of fat insulation underneath your skin to regulate your internal temperature, according to SFGate.com. If you always feel cold, and you seem to be missing a layer of your own blubber, it might be time to boost your consumption of avocados, nuts, seeds, and other fatty foods.