Recently and fortunately, the American idea of low fat equaling healthy has been turned on it's head. Studies and practictioners have shown just how important fat, the right fats, are to our health and fertility.
Unfortunately, not everyone is on board yet. After nearly two decades of having the medical and nutrition community (not to mention the media, our neighbors, friends, and mamas, too) tell us fat is the antichrist and behind all that is evil, it's no surprise that it's taking some time for many of us to fully embrace fat. But embrace it we must.
Contrary to what we were led to believe for soooo long, fat is not our enemy. If healthy skin, a fertile body, and a happy and peaceful mind are your goals, fat is definitely your friend.
Why We Need Fat
Where do I start?!? We need fat for so many reasons. Healthy fat:
- plays a major role in the creation of our hormones (pretty important for fertility and overall health)
- is an important part of our brain's makeup
- provides insulation
- keeps us fuller longer
- gives our cells structure
- allows us to absorb essential nutrients likes vitamins A, D, E, and K as well as curcumin and other phytonutrients and antioxidants
- tastes good! And makes food more yummy
- gives us energy
- puts a damper on inflammation
- is crucial for nerves to "speak" to one another
- helps to balance blood sugar
- makes skin, nail, and hair more supple
Different Types of Fat
Saturated fat is mostly found in animal based foods like meat, poultry, dairy, and fish. Of course there are exceptions in plant kingdom, namely coconut oil and palm oil. Once upon a time saturated fat was villainized for it's purported role in raising the risk of heart disease, but we're not so sure anymore.
This is one of the places I think it's sooo important to remember that we don't eat isolated nutrients, we eat food made up of a lot of different nutrients. If we choose to avoid eating a food because of one so called "bad" nutrient we'll miss out on all the good that food has to offer.
A lot of really delicious and healthful foods contain saturated fat, like grass-fed beef, macadamia nuts, and coconuts. Each of these contains health and fertility promoting nutrients like iron, fiber, and protein, plus they taste great.
Unsaturated fats are found in both animal and plant based foods. Some of them our bodies absolutely have to get from food. Others, our body can make on their own. The ones we can't make are called essential fatty acids (because it's essential that we get them from food.) There are two types of unsaturated fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in almonds, avocados, olives, chicken, and other foods. Olive oil, one of the major sources of monounsaturated fatty acids, is the main source of fat in my favorite fertility and heart healthy eating pattern, the mediterranean diet.
Polyunsaturated fats are most notably found in salmon, algae, and flaxseeds. It's a good idea to get more of your polys from sources high in omega 3s. Though omega 6s are necessary for good health, getting too much of them and too little omega 3s is can cause inflammation.
Manmade trans fats (there are some found in nature, but only in small amounts) are the only fats I will ever call the B word, BAD. Their found in foods made with hydrogenated oils. They were finally banned by the FDA last year but don't have to be completely out of the food supply until 2018.
Fat and Fertility
In my opinion, a low fat diet is THE worst eating pattern anyone can follow if they're trying to conceive, now or in the future. We need fat in our diets to absorb and make use of vitamins A, D, E, and K, all of which play a major roll in fertility and fetal development. And let's not forget that we also use fat to to make sex hormones. The estrogens, androgens, and progesterone, without which we're not going to be able to conceive, are made from cholesterol. Depriving ourselves of fat and cholesterol containing foods, means there is less cholesterol available to make these super important hormones.
Fat also serves to slow down how quickly our bodies absorb carbs in our meals. Slower carb absorption means less chance of an insulin spike, which is crucial for keeping our hormones and mood happier and healthier.
Unsaturated fatty acids, both the mono- and the poly-unsaturated fats, seem to be protective against ovulatory infertility, while trans fats appear to increase the risk of ovulatory infertility. The same is true for low fat dairy. Women who eat more full fat dairy (please choose organic, pasture raised dairy when possible, more on that in another post) have lower risk of ovulatory infertility vs women with higher low fat dairy intake.
For men, fatty acids are a major component of sperm. There are some really interesting studies that link a high omega 6: omega 3 ratio to infertility in men and low DHA (one of the omega 3s found in fish and algae) to poor sperm quality. Getting good quality fats in is just as important to men's fertility as it for women.
How to Incorporate More Fertility Friendly Fats
- Use avocado or coconut oil to cook your eggs and eat the yolk
- Add chia, flax, or hempseeds to your morning smoothie
- Slather a banana, apple, or pear with any nut or seed butter of your choosing
- Have at least 2 servings of low mercury, fatty fish every week
- Snack on nuts, seeds, or olives
- Add sardines to your favorite pasta dishes
- Use a mashed avocado as a mayo replacement on sandwiches or use olive oil based mayo
- Take a quality fish, krill, or algal oil supplement
- Add almonds, walnuts, or macadamia nuts to your morning bowl of hot or cold cereal
- Dip your bread in olive oil or spread on some grass fed butter
- Make your own salad dressing using a cold pressed organic oil of your choice
- Sprinkle sunflower seeds on salads
- Use half of an avocado to add a creamy texture to a smoothie
- Enjoy tortilla chips and guac as a yummy snack
Alright, I want to hear from you. How do you incorporate healthy fats into your meals and snacks?