By now most people agree that eating healthy, naturally occurring fat is an important part of any nutrition plan, many people still shy away from adding it to their meals. I see it all the time – people continue to choose non-fat dairy, opt for the leanest cuts of meat, and think that egg whites are a smart choice.
This low-fat mindset can create a myriad of problems including blood sugar irregularities, impaired digestion, and compromised nutritional status.
Increased risk of disease is also associated with lack of dietary fat. This is evident when reviewing diets higher in the omega-3 fat from fish oil which are linked to lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Low fat, high-carbohydrate diets may also predispose people to diabetes and heart disease over the long-term.
Chances are, you want to make sure you are eating the right amount of fat for you, your body and your needs. Some of the most common signs that you need to up your fat intake include:
1. Poor Digestion/ Constipation
One side effect of the high-protein dietary philosophy is that there are many non-fat, high-protein foods on the market. When you take a moment to think about how protein occurs in nature, you may notice that it always comes with a decent amount of fat. Seafood, meat, and dairy all contain a rich blend of dietary fat and protein. Even plant-based protein foods such as beans, nuts, and seeds all contain a decent amount of fat.
This combination allows for optimal absorption of amino acids and protects the gut from inflammation. In contrast, when people eat non-fat protein-rich foods, such as non-fat yogurt, egg whites, protein powders, or very lean meats, they often develop food intolerances and digestive issues due in great part to the fact that this permits the harmful bacteria in the gut proliferate.
Choose protein sources that naturally provide dietary fat: Full-fat dairy (if tolerated), fattier cuts of meat, fish, and eggs. Top salads with avocado, nuts, or olive oil.
2. Sugar & Carbohydrate Cravings – Especially At Night
One of the most obvious signs that you need to eat more fat is sugar and carb cravings at night due to imbalanced blood sugar. Very few people realize that fat plays a huge role in regulating insulin and blood sugar levels. Carbohydrate-rich foods lead to the largest rise in blood sugar and subsequently insulin (the storage hormone released by the pancreas to allow cells to use blood sugar).
Eating protein with carbohydrates will reduce the increase in blood sugar and insulin, whereas fat has the greatest impact on lowering the blood sugar response to carbohydrates. In fact, fat not only decreases the glycemic index of a meal, but more importantly it decreases the insulin response to a high-carbohydrate meal by slowing digestion. This applies to a meal balanced with protein, fat and carbohydrate – fat and carbohydrate alone, depending on the carbohydrate choice, can be a further recipe for disaster!
Therefore, when people shun dietary fat all day long in favor of only carbohydrates and lean protein, they often experience peaks and valleys in insulin and blood sugar. By the end of the day, cortisol is often elevated due to the crazy blood sugar roller coaster they have been on all day. At the end of the day, they feel insatiable hunger for higher carb foods.
Every meal must include healthy fat, high-quality protein, and low-carb vegetables. As long as you are choosing whole protein sources including meat, fish, whole-fat dairy and eggs, you will ensure you are getting a healthy dose of fat along with your protein.
3. Fatigue on A Low-Carb Diet
A common scenario for someone starting a lower carbohydrate diet is to simply cut carbohydrates but not increase dietary fat. The result is often feeling terrible and quitting. The problem is that a low-fat diet will not support the body shifting to burning body fat instead of glucose and energy production will be sluggish. Increasing fat intake will often solve the problem because it makes the body more metabolically flexible so that it burns more fat for energy.
If you are shooting for a low-carb ketogenic diet, your carbohydrates need to be around 5 percent of calories (less than 50 grams a day) and your fat should be above 70 percent of calories with protein rounding out the rest.
4. Low Hormone Levels: Testosterone & Estrogen
Testosterone, estrogen, and the related androgen hormones that regulate everything from libido to body composition are all made out of cholesterol. The body is able to synthesize cholesterol on its own, however, there are many hormones made from cholesterol and when the diet is lacking in fats, the body is unlikely to have the raw materials necessary for optimal hormone levels.
If you are suffering from any of the symptoms of low androgens, such as low libido, reproductive issues (low sperm count for men or missed periods for women), difficulty building muscle or losing body fat, lack of strength, or slow recovery from exercise, you probably need more saturated fat. Saturated fat is available in animal products (meat, dairy, eggs) and tropical oils such as coconut oil.
Include saturated fat in your diet in reasonable quantities. This includes eggs for breakfast, a little bit of cheese on a salad at lunch, and meat for dinner, all of which will provide the cholesterol necessary for healthy hormone balance.
5. Dry Skin & Eyes
Dry skin and eyes are often caused by a deficiency in fatty acids. The vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat soluble vitamins that help the body regulate lubrication. On a low-fat diet, especially one that is restricts animal fats, the body will be deficient in these vitamins. Additionally, the omega-3 fats found in fish are necessary for healthy skin and eyes. Fish oil also appears to have an anti-inflammatory effect on skin, reducing wrinkles and slowing the aging process.
Eat naturally occurring fats with every meal. Have salmon or other fatty fish regularly (or supplement with up to 3 grams of omega-3s a day) and eat a variety of saturated fats (butter, dairy, meats) that are rich in the fat-soluble vitamins to improve the body’s ability to lubricate effectively.