One component of the paleo diet that never fails to trip people up is the high fat content. Today's misguided health "rules" have labeled fat as Satan's sidekick, leading almost every food producer to come out with a "low fat" or "fat free" option. I definitely used to get excited about low fat options of my favorite processed foods...but now, looking back on it, I laugh at myself. And then I start to pity myself for missing out on all the wonders of fat for so long.
Don't be a fat phobe. Fat consumption contributes to the effectiveness of the paleo diet and in order to lose fat, we must eat fat. Weird concept, right? But don't pretend like your mad about it...when I first "got permission" to eat a lot of fat, I felt like throwing myself a party and brushing my teeth with lard.
Eat Fat to Burn Fat
Aligning with high fat content is a lower carb consumption. If we're eating a ton of carbohydates AND a ton of fat, then no, you're not going to lose weight...your body will just burn the carbs because they are more easily accessible and store the fat as unwanted body fat. But is there such thing as "wanted body fat? Well yes...when your body stores fat for energy (as opposed to carbs), it'll later shred it when it's feeling hungry...score! The low carb nature of the paleo diet means there are very few carbs available for your body to burn...so what does it turn to for energy? FAT. Your body is actually programmed to prefer burning fat for energy rather than carbs, as fat is the densest form of energy you can give yourself.
So, if we eliminate the ample amounts of carbs promoted by the Standard American Diet and dismiss the "low fat" obsession stamped all over creation, we are left with a low carb diet complemented by a high fat intake. If that still scares you - just think of fat as energy. Think of your midday spoonful of delicious fatty almond butter as solid fuel. Basically, if you want to lose fat, then you need to acclimate your body to burning it for energy. How do you do that? Eat more fat.
Fat is incredibly satiating. When we up our fat intake, it actually reduces our hunger levels and leads us to not overeat. Ever notice that even after eating a large bagel smothered with lowfat cream cheese for breakfast, you seem to be hungry again two hours later? That's because you're fueling yourself with empty calories, too many carbs and not enough fat that all leads to an insulin imbalance. It becomes easy to overeat when you're presenting yourself with empty calories. For example, I could eat half a box of oreos in one sitting without a problem, as the cookies' empty nutrients are not sending "I'm full and satiated" signals to my brain. On the other hand, it's exceedingly difficult for me to eat more than 8oz of grassfed prime rib stacked with saturated fat and ample protein. Not to mention, I'm not going to feel the need to eat again for a long while after that, due to the prime rib's capacity to satiate me for an extended period of time (and much of the satiation factor stems directly from that "terrifying" saturated animal fat). Though it may seem conflicting, eating more fat allows you to eat less.
The Right Combination
Keep in mind that just because I'm telling you that fat is good, doesn't mean that my meals consist of just fat. The high fat nature of paleo is effective in its alliance with moderate amounts of protein and low carbs. Low carb does not mean no carb...it just means not sourcing your carbs from a loaf of bread or a low fat muffin. Fuel yourself with carbohydrates that come from lots of veggies and some fruit! Just because you hear "low carb" doesn't mean you should restrict yourself on the clean sources of veggies and fruit. When I make meals, I surround my protein source with carbs via veggies (veggies are another thing you can't really overeat, so by nature you're not going to exceed your carb intake by loading up on broccoli and peppers). Finally, I top my plate off with fat. Lots of fat. It's the most rewarding part of the meal by far. The winning combo of low carb, moderate to high protein and high fat leads to balanced insulin levels, which is A-OK by me!
Animal Fat - What's the Deal?
Another point of fat contention comes in the form of the long time demonized animal fat. Animal fat is, after all, the villain of the health world, right? Wrong. While not all fats are created equal, saturated animal fat is perfectly ok if it's coming from a grass-fed source. If you're purchasing grain-fed meat (not a problem, I definitely do as outlined in my budget post), the adverse grain "nutrients" come through in the fat, so you want to stick to leaner cuts. However, if you're splurging on some grass-fed meat, look forward to the yummy fat that comes with it as it fits in perfectly well with the paleo way. Not to mention, saturated animal fat from grass-fed sources has a rockin' Omega 6:3 ratio.
Fats of Choice & Portions
Here is a list of my favorite fat sources that I consume on a day-to-day basis, along with the respective portions I generally use per item if it's accompanying a meal.
- Avocado - 1/2 of a large avocado, 1 whole small avocado
- Healthy oils - 2-3 tablespoons
- Nuts and seeds - a big handfull, or a 1/3 cup
- Nut butters - 2 tablespoons
- Olives - 1/3 cup
- Grass-fed butter or ghee - 2 tablespoons
- Coconut milk - 1/4 - 1/3 cup
- Shredded coconut - a big handful
- Saturated animal fat - this flirts with both macronutrients of protein and fat, so I generally adhere to my typical protein portion, which will range from 4-8 oz. depending on how hungry I am.