Something doesn’t add up with the rate of obesity and the way most Americans eat, or so it would seem. Would you believe that some experts say that we are not getting enough fat in our diets? As a nation, how could we be so overweight and yet be missing fat from our diets? The answer lies in what we eat. We all need a certain level of macronutrients commonly known as carbohydrates, protein, and fat in our diets. Can you guess which macronutrient we consume too much of?
Let’s take a look at what most people eat according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans issued by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services:
1. Grain-based Desserts
2. Yeast Breads
3. Chicken and Chicken Mixed Dishes
4. Soda/Energy/Sports Drinks
6. Alcoholic Beverages
7. Pasta and Pasta Dishes
8. Tortillas, Burritos, and Tacos
9. Beef and Beef Mixed Dishes
10. Dairy Desserts
11. Potato/corn/other Chips
13. Reduced-fat Milk
15. Ready-to-eat Cereal
Notice the carb-heavy dishes that are in bold. These are the top sources of calories for Americans. Sure, some of these dishes are high in fat as well, but mostly refined, heavily processed fat – fat that sticks to you.
Why Carbs May Make You Fat
Without giving a lengthy encyclopedia post about carbohydrates, this is how it works: When we consume carbohydrates the body can do a couple of things – “burn” the carbohydrates via energy exertion (exercise), or store the carbohydrates by converting to fat. When carbohydrates are consumed the liver converts them to glucose, where it is then either used for energy, circulated throughout the body and stored as fat, or built up as fat in the liver (in a nutshell). This is especially true with the consumption of empty carb sources such as soda, candy, and alcohol.
Before we give carbs a pitch fork and call them the ultimate food sin, we need to understand that we absolutely need carbs in our diet. Fruits, veggies, and moderate consumption of grains have been proven to be a part of a healthy diet. The problem is most people over-consume carbs, which leads to fat build up.
If We Eat Too Many Carbs, Then How Can We Replace Those Calories?
So we eat too many carbs. It’s a fact. If we eliminate some of these carbs from our diets then what can we replace these foods with? According to this article from Harvard, we need to get more fat in. This makes sense because (other than bodybuilders), most of us only need a certain amount of protein – about .5 to .7 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight. If we are getting adequate protein, then logical replacement for excess carbs would be fat.
Make no mistake, some of the foods on the list above can just be eliminated altogether (or scaled way back) rather than be replaced – soda, alcohol, and grain-based desserts, for example. As Americans a lot of us consume too many calories, so just plain eliminating some of the carbs (and calories) is a necessity. But to get our macronutrient levels in line we may also need to replace a little bit of our yeast breads and pizza with other foods. Foods that have a supply of the most calorie-dense, hunger-satisfying macronutrient – fat. The USDA recommends that anywhere from 20-35% of our diet come from fat.
How to Get Less Carbs and More Fat
Understand that fat is very energy dense. A little goes a long way. So don’t go on thinking you can go on an all-you-can-eat bacon diet. Here is what I do: couple fat with veggies. This is a pretty simple rule that brings both calories and volume to meals and snacks. Veggies are for the most part low in calories.
1 cup of spinach has about 10 calories.
1 cup of chopped carrots is about 50 calories.
On the other hand 1 tablespoon of olive oil contains about 120 calories.
The calorie profile is similar for other oils, nut butters, nuts, and other sources of fat. A small portion packs a lot of calories. I don’t know about you, but to me a couple tablespoons of olive oil or a ¼ cup of nuts is not going to filled my up like a cup of cooked pasta would. This is where the veggies pair nicely with fat to make a satisfying meal.
Here are a few tips to get more fat and less carbs at each meal:
Breakfast – Bring back the whole egg. Omelets filled with a generous portion of veggies can be a great healthy meal. The eggs yolks provide essentially Omega 3 fatty acids, the veggies bring a little bit of carbs and micronutrients (vitamins), and if you cook the eggs in a little bit of coconut oil you can add a little extra fat in. Another option is to have some scrambled eggs with a side of spinach or other leafy greens. Ditch the toast, pancakes, and waffles.
Lunch – Salads! Leafy greens are inexpensive, packed with nutrients and low in calories. Also add your favorite veggie toppings such as carrots, cabbage, sprouts, celery, etc. Add a 3 ot 6 oz. portion of chicken, salmon, tuna, sirloin steak, or other source of protein. Dress it with a salad dressing made from olive oil or just vinegar and olive oil to get a little extra healthy fat.
Dinner – Ditch the bun, the tortilla, the taco shell, the noodles. Try stir fry dishes loaded with veggies using coconut oil or sesame seed oil to cook. Try a fajita salad. Kabobs with a side salad. Load up on the veggies and you’ll have a plate just as big as any carb-heavy meal.
Snacks – Fruit. Remember you do need carbs, so don’t be so scared of fat storage that you deplete your body of an important food source. Look for in-season fresh fruit to get some natural sugar and fiber in your diet. Nuts go along nicely with fruit, and nut butters (almond, cashew, sunflower seed to mix it up) make a great dip for sliced apples or even carrot sticks and celery.
Remember to not go on a fat binge. Remember the USDA recommended 20-35%. Over consumption of any macronutrient is not cool.
Also certain fats such as “Vegetable Oil”, canola oil, soybean oil, partially-hydrogenated oil, and trans fat are not the most desirable items due to the processing practices and possible genetically modified ingredients they may contain.
My favorite fats to use are the following:
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (dressings)
Sesame Oil (dressings and stir fry)
Coconut Oil (for cooking)
Organic Sunflower Oil (for high-heat cooking)
Organic Butter (occasionally for cooking and in sauces)
Why trust only me in this issue? Read further. Here are a couple articles and resources to check out: