Last week, in part 1 of this 3-part Fats & Oils series, I wrote on why we absolutely need fat in our diets and specifically honed in on the benefits of coconut oil. However coconut oil is certainly not the “only” or “best” fat we should be eating. In fact, while it continues to gain popularity, it is still a processed product – not a whole food. While some must be avoided altogether and others carry health benefits, oils in general must be used sparingly. This week I want to explore all the other sources of yummy and necessary fats that we want to be incorporating into our diets in order to fuel our bodies (aka our fine-tuned running machines!!). To finish up, next week I’ll look at fats we need to avoid.
Let’s start with oils. I mentioned oils are to be used sparingly. This is because they come to us in the form of 100% fat. For example, coconut oil comes from coconuts and if you were to eat the entire edible coconut – meat and water – you would obtain a myriad of nutrients from doing so including protein, carbohydrates, electrolytes and other minerals, vitamins and many, many other phytonutrients alongside the fat. Same goes for olives and olive oil, flaxseeds and flax oil, almonds and almond oil. You get the point. We are meant to eat the whole food in order to obtain optimal health benefits. It gets a bit lopsided when we start chunking the food up into its parts. We need fat… But not too much fat!
How much is too much? As runners, we want our diets to be composed of approximately 20-40% fat (as well as 40-80% carbohydrate and 10-25% protein). Those are some pretty big ranges and unless you’re counting calories and grams of macronutrients, you won’t have a clue where you fall percentage wise. The other problem is that when we start eating food that’s been “chunked up” into its parts, our bodies can’t tell when enough is enough. The satiety button doesn’t get pushed.
However, when you are eating all your fat from whole foods sources and avoiding the packaged and processed stuff, a wonderful thing happens. You intuitively know how much is too much. You’ll be eating and all of a sudden you’re body tells you, “That’s good, that’s enough, thanks so much”. No need for macronutrient counting after all. Phewf, thank goodness.
What are the sources of fats you need to be including in your diet? Here they are, in somewhat alphabetical order, not that I have favourites (although of course I do!):
Nuts (raw and unsalted)
Nuts should be purchased raw and unsalted, and then stored in the fridge to keep them fresh and prevent rancidity. The fat found in most nuts is monounsaturated fat, which is the ‘heart-healthy’ type, the same type you’ve heard about olive oil having. For extra flavour, salt, season and roast the nuts yourself if that’s how you like them! Try roasted maple nuts.
- Almonds, and almond butter (primarily heart-healthy monounsaturated fat; plus almonds contain 6g of protein, 3g of fibre, 7.5mg of the antioxidant vitamin E and 80mg of the electrolyte mineral calcium per ounce);
- Brazil nuts (amazing source of the antioxidant mineral selenium – 544mcg per ounce… however, you don’t need tons of selenium – 2 Brazil nuts per day will suffice);
- Cashews (contain more iron than other nuts, 1.9mg per ounce, and are lower in fat than other nuts);
- Hazelnuts (excellent source of phytochemicals and phytosterols which help reduce cholesterol and boost the immune system, and contains 4mg vitamin E per ounce);
- Macadamia Nuts (highest fat content of all nuts, making for a smooth and creamy texture, good source of phytosterols and beta-sitosterol, which is plant compound found to lower cholesterol);
- Peanuts (known to be high in the amazing antioxidant resveratrol among other antioxidants, however use caution with peanuts – blanched peanuts have lost all resveratrol and their antioxidant capacity is significantly lowered so you want peanuts in their skins; peanuts are a heavily sprayed crop so buy only organic to avoid pesticides and herbicides; peanuts are susceptible to contamination by carcinogenic aflatoxins so it’s important to store them in the fridge; when found in the form of peanut butter there is often sugar and oils added, which must be avoided; and peanuts are one of the most allergy-causing foods);
- Pecans (loaded with heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, potassium, phytosterols and the aforementioned beta-sitosterol – traditionally listed as one of the top three most healthful nuts – pecans/almonds/walnuts);
- Pine nuts (primarily polyunsaturated fat, and therefore are very susceptible to rancidity);
- Pistachio nuts (rich in monounsaturated fats and phytochemicals);
- Walnuts (good source of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, about half that of chia seeds and for this reason is susceptible to rancidity).
Nuts can be hard for some people to digest. It may help to soak them for 7-14 hours and then dehydrate (oven at 150 or lowest temperature) for 12-24 hours.
Seeds (raw and unsalted)
- Chia seeds (black or white = same nutritional profile, fantastic source of polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids – 4900mg per ounce ; also provides 4g complete protein – all nine essential amino acids – and 11g of fibre – wow!!);
- Flaxseeds (fantastic omega-3 source, but be sure to freshly grind them yourself just prior to eating; also contains 7.5g fibre per one ounce serving);
- Hemp seeds (good source of omega-3 fatty acids, about half that of chia seeds; also provides 10g complete protein per one ounce serving);
- Pumpkin seeds (fantastic source of the relaxing electrolyte mineral magnesium – 150mg per ounce, which is approximately triple the amount that other nuts and seeds offer; plus provides 7g complete protein and 4mg iron per one ounce serving);
- Sesame seeds and tahini (great source of iron and calcium – 4mg iron and 273mg calcium per ounce; contains more phytosterols than any other nut or seed);
- Sunflower seeds (particularly high in vitamin E at 10mg per ounce!).
- Avocados (rich in oleic acid, a monounsaturated heart-healthy omega-9 fat AND high in fibre, vitamin A and potassium);
- Coconut: flaked, shredded, milk, water, and oil in limited amounts (mainly saturated fat, but studies show only benefits and no reason to fear this saturated fat);
- Olives, and olive oil in limited amounts (great source of heart healthy monounsaturated oil oleic acid – also dubbed omega-9).
When buying oils, ensure they are unrefined and cold-pressed virgin. Refined oils are damaged, and we don’t want those damaged oils flooding our bodies with free radicals.
- Cocoa bean (cocoa butter is made up of oleic acid, steric acid and palmitic acid and of course the cocoa is loaded with flavonoids, specifically flavanols that have been shown to be very heart-healthy).
Animal products as a whole ideally make up no more than 10% of your diet. Or, in other words – balance, small amounts. Such as about 1 egg per day… fish one or two times per week… a teaspoon or two of butter each day max, if at all…
- Butter or ghee (clarified butter): organic, unsalted (contains butyric acid, the short chain fatty acid known to have antiviral and anticancer properties – just don’t go overboard with it, okay?);
- Eggs: organic free-range (please don’t just eat the egg white, thank you);
- Fish: salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, halibut, black cod, and bluefish (fantastic sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA], and docosahexaenoic [DHA]);
- Salmon (yes, I know I listed it already): wild, such as sockeye (fantastic source of polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA).
There you have it… That’s quite the list of delicious fats to help keep you fuelled and running strong and healthy, wouldn’t you say? And to help you incorporate them into your diet, please find some favourite recipes below.
Enjoy… And happy running 🙂
Sarah J Cuff, RNH, PTS
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I agree, eating whole is the way to go. I`m scared coconuts are going to go the path of the peanuts, as they get used as oil, butter, milk, meat, juice… Can`t we eat a whole coconut and still love it? I like the further ideas on healthy fats besides plain jane oils, too!
Yes, why can’t we just eat the whole thing and love it?!! Seriously, stuff starts going downhill when we start processing whole foods, chunking them up into their parts using methods that destroy original health benefits and then adding ingredients (like sugar in peanut butter). Never thought about coconuts as following same path as peanuts, but very interesting thought!!
It scares me how many foods we`ve destroyed, while at the same time cutting our diet variety in half! Corn, soy, peanuts, and now coconuts seem to make up the majority of what we eat, or at least contribute to it in some way.