The body needs three macro nutrients for energy: Carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
A gram of fat packs more than twice the energy of a gram of the other two. “When you don’t have any fat in your diet its like you don’t have fuel to burn calories. The body requires energy to keep its metabolism properly functioning, and a 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming fatty acids can boost metabolic health.
What’s more, “old” fat stored in the body’s peripheral tissues—around the belly, thighs, or butt (also called subcutaneous fat), can’t be burned efficiently without “new” fat to help the process. Dietary fat helps break down existing fat by activating PPAR-alpha and fat-burning pathways through the liver.
Fat isn’t the easiest nutrient to digest, so it sticks around in the digestive system for more time than many other nutrients. MUFAs may also help stabilize blood sugar levels. That means you feel full longer, and you won’t feel the stomach-growling urge to raid the refrigerator after mealtime.
In fact, diets with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of MUFA that the body can only acquire through food, create a greater sense of fullness both immediately following and two hours after dinner than do meals with low levels of the fatty acids.
It’s no surprise that dieters who consume moderate levels of fat are more likely to stick with their eating plans than dieters who consume low levels of fat. The result? More weight lost.
Everyone says that dieting, not to put too fine a point on it, stinks. Eating yummy foods makes you happy, and it turns out low-fat versions just don’t do the trick for one surprising reason: We can taste the fat—not just the salt, sugar, and other goodies in food.
Recent research shows that our taste buds can detect fat in food, which helps explain why low-fat foods don’t curb our fat cravings. According to the research, fat may be an entirely different basic taste than what we’ve long considered the four mainstays: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter.
On an even happier fat note, omega-3 fatty acids can boost serotonin levels in the brain, helping to improve mood, increase motivation, and keep you from devouring a large pizza.
3.5% of women and 2% of men have suffered from diagnosed binge-eating disorders, while millions more people are occasional emotional eaters, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.
Eating good fats along with an effective exercise program can increase muscle. Increasing muscle mass is vital to increasing metabolism and burning calories both in and out of the gym. In a 2011 study published in Clinical Science, researchers examined the effects of eight weeks of PUFA supplementation in adults ages 25 to 45 and found that the fat increases protein concentration and the size of muscular cells in the body. Previous studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids stimulate muscle protein synthesis in older adults and can mediate muscle mass loss due to aging.
Many nutrients including vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, meaning that the body can’t absorb them without fat. If your body isn’t absorbing nutrients properly, it can lead to vitamin deficiencies and bring on dry skin, blindness, brittle bones, muscle pains, and abnormal blood clotting.
These vitamins are also key to maintaining energy, focus, and muscle health, all of which contribute to a healthy weight. Vitamin E, for example is a powerful antioxidant and helps maintain your metabolism, while the body’s levels of vitamin D predicts its ability to lose fat, especially in the abdominal region.
So while you can pile your salad high with nutrient-rich spinach, tomatoes, and carrots, you really need to thank the olive oil for sending the salad’s vitamins your way.
Eat More: Unsaturated Fatty Acids: Consisting of both monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), they are important for health. MUFAs are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, olives, and avocadoes, while PUFAs are found in vegetable oils, fish, and seafood. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two PUFAs that can only be obtained through diet and are called “essential fatty acids.” Adjust your diet accordingly.
Eat Less: Saturated Fatty Acids: Found primarily in foods from animal sources such as meat and dairy products, like butter and cheese, they are usually solid at room temperature. Some vegetable oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oil also contain saturated fat. Eat limited amounts as part of a healthy diet, and always try to consume healthier sources. For example, grass fed beef is a much better option than popcorn popped in oil.
Eat None: Trans Fatty Acids: Chemically processed vegetable oils, they are semisolid at room temperature and are used in some margarine’s, fried foods, and processed foods to enhance flavor, texture, and shelf life. Also called “partially hydrogenated” oils, they should be avoided like the plague they are.