Is full fat good for you?

Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Photo by Stephanie Crocker 

Many people are surprised when I encourage full-fat dairy over nonfat yogurt, real butter over vegan butter, or full fat coconut milk. Of course, this is understandable. It seems logical to think, I don’t want to be fat, so therefore I shouldn’t eat foods that are high in fat.

Good fats and bad fats

When it comes to choosing full-fat foods, it is crucial to distinguish between health-promoting fats and rancid, corrupted fats.

Fats usually go from “good” to “bad” when they undergo some process of refinement. Oils and fats are often heated at high temperatures, oxidized through exposure to light/air, or polluted by commercial farming methods. High heat processing, for instance, removes healthful nutrients like Vitamin E and alters lipid compounds that the body cannot use for healthy cell building.

Here are a few common examples of “bad” fats that are highly refined:

  • Margarine and vegetable shortening
  • Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats (read ingredient labels!)
  • Refined vegetable oils such as soybean oil, safflower/sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, canola oil, etc.
  • Fried foods
  • Artificial trans fats (found in processed foods like doughnuts, biscuits, pie-crust mixes, etc.)

Good fats have not been refined, and all types of fat, whether saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, play a role in supporting a healthy body. Examples of foods that contain good fats include:

  • Avocados
  • Butter - organic, pastured
  • Coconut
  • Eggs - organic, pastured
  • Fish (especially salmon and sardines)
  • Olive oil (unrefined!)
  • Nuts and seeds

Why full-fat foods are better than low- or reduced-fat foods

Low- and reduced-fat products have gone through a refinement process. This process often removes the valuable nutrients that make that food so great to eat in the first place! Additionally, when products are refined to low-fat or reduced-fat, the flavor often diminishes, so more sugar is added to make up for taste. That means the fat is simply replaced by sugar (and excess sugar in the body just turns into fat). 

Some of my favorite full-fat foods

Coconut milk: Full-fat coconut milk is full of medium chain triglycerides (MCT). MCTs can actually increase the body’s metabolic rate. These types of fats are more readily accessed for energy, meaning they are burned, not stored. Full -at coconut milk also contains lauric acid, which is antiviral and antibacterial. When full fat coconut milk is reduced to low-fat, much of the MCTs are removed, and therefore many of the benefits are lost. When choosing full-fat coconut milk, opt for the canned variety that is BPA-free and contains no additives. 

Yogurt: In most cases, low-fat yogurt includes added emulsifiers and industrial fibers so that it will mimic the creamy texture of full fat yogurt, not to mention added sugar to make up for flavor. The fatty acids found in full-fat yogurt, though, are quite beneficial. Yogurt made from organic, pasture-raised cows contain conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and phytanic acid. CLA has been found to be protective against heart disease and cancer, and phytanic acid has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. Additionally, full-fat dairy from organic, grass-fed cows will offer a good source of fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A (in its active form, retinol) and Vitamin K2; two important ingredients that are difficult to obtain elsewhere in the diet. Several studies show that full-fat dairy is not associated with risk of cardiovascular death, such as this one that found a 69% lower risk of death compared to those who ate the least amount of full-fat dairy. 

Most people, especially pregnant/breast-feeding women and growing children, can benefit from more full-fat food sources, rather than refined low and reduced fat products. Even though it might feel counterintuitive, eating the right fats will not promote unnecessary weight gain. In fact, the opposite is true: healthy fats help the body build the right hormones and induce satiation so weight loss is a common result. Do your best to stay away from refined fats and processed foods containing hydrogenated fats, and instead opt for traditional foods like extra-virgin olive oil, coconut, egg yolks, and pastured, organic butter. 

Do you have any other questions about full-fat foods or good vs. bad fats? Let us know in the comments and we’ll do our best to answer!