Yesterday I wrote about fats, specifically, some of the fundamental reasons why we need them to maintain a healthy state of being and why we’ve been “fed” misleading information about this humble macronutrient for several decades now. I wanted to do a follow-up post today because I know it’s all very well and good to be re-educated and have your facts straight … that’s the theory side of things. But how do you put this into practice? Especially after (perhaps) spending the majority of your life avoiding fats like the plague.
First of all there’s that mental hurdle. I remember back in 2011 when I first started to educate myself about the benefits of eating more (good) fats. My logical side understood it was going to nourish me. My “old-habits-die-hard” side was still a bit hesitant … but I’ve been told “LOW FAT, LOW FAT” my entire life … and I have a liver disease, what if it makes me sick like it used to (insert memories of stomach pains and nausea here).
Secondly, there’s the fact that your body just isn’t familiar with having to digest larger volumes of fat … perhaps this has made your gallbladder and pancreas a bit lazy (the gallbladder releases bile to help break down dietary fats and the pancreas produces and secretes enzymes that further assist the digestion of fats). Many of us find that we need to slowly transition to a higher fat diet, and often implement a few nifty tricks to support our digestive organs through this dietary transition phase. Too much too soon will probably give you the runs or trigger major, gut-wrenching nausea … not ideal!
So where do we start …
Well, a great place to start is to work out where your fats are currently coming from (are you eating any, or is everything in your kitchen “low-fat”?). For me, I began by replacing low-fat packaged foods with whole food options that naturally had more fat. So I swapped low fat chocolate ice-cream for 85% dark chocolate. I swapped low-fat greek yoghurt to the full-fat version. I started making my own homemade dips, rather than buying the low-fat processed ones. My body may have had to work a bit harder to process the extra fats, but at the same time, there were far less additives/preservatives/flavours etc. for my liver to deal with, so this sort of balanced things out. I didn’t really notice any “side-effects” as such, except that my taste-buds quickly adjusted to whole foods and pretty soon anything too refined tasted ‘fake’ and I no longer enjoyed it.
Another great thing to do around this time is slowly increase the natural fats you ARE having. Were you limiting yourself to 1/4 avocado in a salad or sandwich? Go ahead and have a full half. Were you having a thin smear of peanut butter on your bread or a small spoonful with your celery sticks … lay it on thicker. Cutting every last skerrick of fat off your chicken thigh … maybe leave a little bit on and just see how you go (it tastes soooooo good!).
Finally, if you notice any indigestion or nausea as you increase your good fats, taking a teaspoon or two of apple cider vinegar, or the juice of half a lemon, in some filtered or spring water 10 or so minutes before you eat can stimulate the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and can wake up the gallbladder if it’s a bit sleepy.
At this stage, if even the smallest increases in fats cause any upsets; tummy pain, significant stool changes (diarrhoea, greasy/pale stools, excessively loose on more than one occasion … it’s normal to have loose stools once or twice after a higher fat meal/snack but it should pass within a few days), nausea, reflux (that aren’t rectified by the inclusion of apple cider vinegar and/or lemon), I recommend you do some more investigating. Take yourself off to a holistic nutritionist or naturopath (or a dietitian … but be careful to find one that isn’t still indoctrinated with the out-dated “fat-is-bad” dogma). They can order tests such as liver function, genetics, stool analysis etc. to check for pathologies that may be interfering with digestion. They can then offer individualised dietary advice.
Okay so I’m slowly but surely getting more good, natural fats into my day … what next???
You may want to just continue doing what you’re doing for several months before trying anything new, maybe just adding in an extra 1/2 an avocado here, a splash more full-fat coconut cream there. Let your body adjust, there’s no rush, every little change is doing you good. If you’re dairy isn’t full fat organic yet, this is a beautiful next step (see this post for the explanation).
Then you might start to build your meals differently. After almost a year of slowly eating more good fats, not freaking out about a bit of fat on meat etc. I slowly started to cut down on grains. Not dramatically. I still ate organic spelt bread, had rice with my curries and stir-fries and loved some oats or quinoa flakes as a morning porridge. However instead of having grains at each meal, I might choose a smoothie for breakfast, then have bread at lunch and have meat/fish and veggies at dinner. Or maybe have one slice of bread at breakfast (smothered in avocado) with a smoothie and then one slice at lunch (again with lots of avocado and an egg and then veggie sticks and nuts/seeds on the side). I stopped snacking on bread and gluten-free crackers with nut butter and embraced the humble bliss ball or apple and nut butter combo.
I didn’t really overthink things either – it was more like, well if I add a heaped spoonful of cashew butter to my porridge and berries, I’m more satisfied and don’t need morning tea. Oh it’s lunch … you know what? I’m actually craving some of mum’s leftover chicken and mango salad with lots of avocado … I might skip my normal avo smash on toast today. Come dinnertime, and I’d find I was craving oily fish with simple steamed veggies, followed by some (good-fat-filled) bliss balls for dessert.
It wasn’t a matter of eliminating carbs or grains, but just cutting down to allow room for more nourishing fats. Before I knew it, I was eating a whole avocado a day, plus a handful or two of nuts and seeds, some oily fish and maybe some eggs or chicken with a bit of fat left on. Plus I wasn’t scared to add coconut cream to sweet spud mash or use coconut oil in baking/sautéing. If I ate dairy, it was full fat organic. I didn’t buy any refined processed foods because I’d lost my taste for them.
My hair was shinier, my skin was softer, my energy was constant and my digestion was better than it had been in years. Not only was I nourishing my body with essential fats, I was eating closer to nature than ever before, so it was a two-pronged approach without me realising. I didn’t force-feed myself cups of coconut oil (ewwww) or add butter to everything. I just slowly found myself gravitating towards nuts/seeds, coconut, avocado, fish, fattier meats, eggs, butter, coconut throughout the day, and my fruits and veggie intake naturally increased in the process (these foods are great carriers for good fats).
From here you will naturally find what works for you and this may change over time …
There might be times where you experiment with a lower-carb, higher-fat approach just to see how it feels. You might find that you’re now over-doing the fats a bit and so you back off for a while. You might find that you thrive on coconut fats but don’t handle animal fats all that well. Or perhaps the opposite, coconut products give you a rash or indigestion, but you feel very comfortable with butter and full-fat cheese.
I study nutrition and not just when I’m at uni … I spend my spare time reading research articles in medical journals, listening to podcasts with the world’s leading experts on nutrition and metabolic health. I can honestly tell you that there is no one size fits all. So have a play and find what works for you. I write these posts to bring some clarity to confusing nutritional topics, not to “TELL YOU WHAT TO DO”. No book, blog, heck even health professional, can really “KNOW” what is perfect for you when it comes to diet and lifestyle. So as always, the take home message is …
Stand strong in your personal power, be intuitive, trust your instincts, remain open-minded, live a life that you love and eat in a way that makes your body sing! Know that no one is more of an expert on what works best for you than YOU!!!
Happy good-fatting lovely ones, let’s chat again soon xxx