If you’re aiming to lose weight, the last thing you should be doing is eating fatty foods, right?
The good news - research has shown that adopting a high-fat diet can lead to reduced bodyweight and waist circumference.
The bad news - this doesn’t mean you can feast on fish and chips every night.
Fat is a far more complex topic than many of us realise. This article - which features comments from a number of nutritional experts - will give you a clear picture of how much fat you should include in your diet and where you should be getting it from.
What is the recommended daily allowance of fats?
According to the British Nutrition Foundation, men are recommended to eat no more than 95g of fat a day (30g saturates), while the guideline daily amount for women is 70g (20g saturates).
Unfortunately, it appears that the vast majority of Britons don't know how much fat they should be consuming on a daily basis.
Fitness First Clubs conducted a survey, asking 750 people if they’re aware of the aforementioned guideline amounts. Less than 8% got the right answer, with a further 59% admitting that they had no idea.
Let’s be honest, nobody is calculating exactly how much fat, whether saturated or unsaturated, they’re putting in their bodies. Nevertheless, the sheer lack of awareness that our findings highlighted is alarming.
What does a high-fat diet do to the body?
It’s vital that you know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fats.
The kind of fat that you find in your sausage sandwich or cheeseburger is saturated. Too much of this and you’ll see your cholesterol levels going up, while the chances of you suffering a stroke or heart disease will increase. You’re also likely to put on weight.
Unsaturated fats, however, are a little more complex. They can be broken down like this:
• Monounsaturated fats
These come from olives, various types of nut (almonds, peanuts and pecans), certain seeds and avocados.
As we’ve pointed out in the past, monounsaturated fats can help to spike your testosterone, which is crucial if you are trying to build muscle.
• Polyunsaturated fats
These come from walnuts, flaxseed and canola oils, and fish. The latter is a good source of Omega-3, which has untold health benefits, such as easing joint pain and enhancing neurological development in children.
The government has previously warned that the UK is getting nowhere near enough oily fish.
Emma Williams, a Personal trainer at Fitness First Clubs, explained how some people are tweaking their diets in order to shed weight:
“If you follow a consistent high-fat, low-carb (less than 50g) diet, then your body gradually stops using carbohydrates as a fuel source. This usually takes around 10 days to two weeks to get started, but many find Keto successful in losing weight or reducing body fat.”
5 simple ways to adopt a high-fat diet without piling on the pounds
• Replace butter and mayonnaise with mashed avocado on sandwiches and with salads
• Aim to have two servings of oily fish each week, such as salmon, trout, seabass and mackerel
• Increase the fat content of salads by adding a sprinkling of unsalted nuts, seeds or a teaspoon of olive oil
• Cook using a small amount of coconut oil
• Add a teaspoon of peanut or almond butter to rice cakes or spread on toast for a tasty snack
Is it best to avoid a low-fat diet?
Many people swear by low-fat foods, but the reality is that there’s often more to these products than meets the eye.
Carly Tierney - expert nutritionist and personal trainer - said that many foods that are labelled as “low-fat” are probably worth avoiding.
“It’s best to swerve things like breakfast bars, light yoghurts and flavoured waters with added sugars. Processed foods such as ready meals are not great either. Also, things like low-fat noodle pots, frozen lasagnes and diet sandwiches and crisps.”
Her views were echoed by Zoe Martin - nutritionist advisor to Discount Supplements - who stated that some low-fat foods aren’t necessarily low in calories, as fat is often replaced with sugar.
“For a product to be labelled lower in fat, it has to contain a minimum of 30% less fat than a similar product. However, if the food in question is already high in fat, the lower-fat version could still be high in fat. For example - low-fat mayonnaise is labelled as having 30% less fat than the standard version, but is still high in fat,” she told us.
Emma Williams also pointed out a new trend that could be causing people to ramp up their calorie intake unnecessarily.
“People recently seem to be having coffee with coconut oil. Although I think coconut oil is great, I don't think this is suitable for everyone as this bumps your coffee up to over 100 calories and that's before you have eaten anything. If you are dieting, 100 calories would be better consumed as food to make you feel full,” she added.
Does a high-fat meal plan have to be accompanied by a low-carb diet?
As a consequence of adopting a high-fat diet, many people choose to cut right back on carbs.
This drew quite the backlash, with some experts claiming that the report cherry-picked certain pieces of research while appearing to ignore others.
Carly Tierney stressed that although cutting back on carbohydrates can help someone to lose weight, it’s dangerous to completely remove them from your diet.
“Cutting out any food group is a bad idea. Your body needs each of the macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) to perform at its best. The trick is to choose the best quality products from each food group,” she commented.
Cutting carbs may result in short-term weight loss, but the effects of a low-carb diet can include:
• Loss of sex drive
• Weight gain as your metabolism slows down
• Bad skin and hair
• Decreased athletic performance
Zoe Martin agreed with Carly, suggesting that removing carbs from your diet can have a serious knock-on effect.
“Limiting your carbs is suitable, whereas boycotting them completely is not,” she continued.
“Having less carbohydrates can also make getting enough fibre difficult; which is vital for a healthy digestive system, so eat vegetables, legumes and fruits for healthy carbs.”
What are the best sources of carbs?
To muddy the waters even further, our most recent blog post focused on the results of a new study in Italy, which showed that pasta - a complex carbohydrate that many people are wary of - could in fact be an effective weight-loss food if eaten in moderation.
With so many conflicting studies being published all the time, it’s easy to see why many people struggle with their diets.
Frida Harju, in-house nutritionist at health and fitness app Lifesum, told us that in similar fashion to fats, many people mistakenly think that all carbs are the same.
“I believe it is counterproductive to advise anyone to cut out all carbs or to cut back on them without knowing the different varieties, as just like with fat, there are carbs that are good and bad for us,” she commented.
“It is a good idea to cut back on sugary or simple carbs, but you should still keep complex carbohydrates from wholegrains and starchy foods in your diet, as they contain numerous health benefits, as well as being your main source of energy. Lastly, if you cut out carbs, you are at risk of making up the calories by eating saturated fats, which will be counter-productive to weight loss.”
The verdict - is adopting a high-fat diet a good way to lose weight?
Everybody is different and while a high-fat, low-carb diet might work for one person, it won’t necessarily be the best solution for you.
While you might want to cut back on certain food groups, it’s NEVER a good idea to remove them completely.
To sum things up, our experts have offered a few simple tips to help you stay on the straight and narrow.
1) Don’t go for the “all or nothing” approach
Balance is key, so don’t omit an entire food group from your diet. It’s not healthy and we can’t emphasise this enough!
2) Read the labels on products
Zoe Martin told us that only 48% of people check the labels on their food. While you don’t want to fall into the trap of calorie counting, it’s good to have an idea of what you’re putting into your body.
3) Don’t skip breakfast
Rick Hay, an anti-ageing food and fitness nutritionist, explained why this really is the most important meal of the day.
“[Skipping breakfast] will put too much pressure on your adrenal glands, which will make it harder for the body to metabolise fat and you can end up with more weight around the tummy area,” he told us.
You can read more about the importance of eating breakfast here.
4) Be wary of fad diets
Zoe Martin said that fads like the infamous Atkins diet have “created chaos over whether carbs are beneficial or disastrous”.
You should always be sceptical about crash diets. The US News & World Report regularly looks at the latest diet trends and ranks them on their effectiveness.
It’s interesting to see that the popular Paleo diet - which is notoriously low in carbohydrates - is ranked dead last in the ‘Best Weight-Loss Diets’ category.
5) Consider the GI value of your food
Zoe Martin and Rick Hay both touched on this. The glycaemic index (GI) or glycaemic load (GL) indicates the food’s effect on a person’s blood glucose level.
While Rick suggested that low-GL meals and snacks can help you to achieve weight loss, Zoe explained that the index can throw up all kinds of strange results.
“Checking for low-GI foods might surprise you, for watermelon and parsnips are high in GI; whereas white chocolate cake has a lower GI value,” she commented.
It goes to show that things aren’t always cut and dried, and if you’re confused by the seemingly endless reams of contradictory nutritional information that floods the internet each day, it’s worth checking in with the experts!
6) Don’t over-indulge - a high-fat diet still has limits!
Your eyes might light up at the thought of creating a high-fat diet plan, but you still need to stay within the recommended limits.
Chris Hall, a qualified nutritionist and founder of Hall Training Systems, explained:
“The problem with having this vague understanding of ‘good fats are good for me so I must eat more fat;’ is that fat still contains calories, and calories from fat can still make us fat just like calories from elsewhere. Healthy fats are important for the maintenance of our hair, skin and nails, and also for the formation of cholesterol and hormone development, but you don’t need a lot to reap the benefits.”