The 3 Best Sources Of Fat For Weight Loss, According To Functional Docs
I've lost count of the number of times I've said it: Fat doesn't make you fat. It's a truth I've taken for granted for years, having heard it from the lips of many of the country's best doctors, but it's still one of the hardest pieces of wellness advice for people to believe. And it makes sense if you're looking at things from a caloric perspective. Fat has 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein have 4 calories per gram each. If you eat less fat, you'll be eating fewer calories—and that must result in weight loss, right?
If calories were the be-all-end-all of weight loss, that would be true. But weight gains and losses happen due to a number of complicated systemic processes in your body, including how what you eat affects your blood sugar and the cascade of hormones that follows. Because of how fat affects your mitochondria and your hormones, it's now widely considered by the country's best doctors to be a tool for weight loss rather than a hindrance to it. "In my functional medicine clinic, higher blood sugar and higher insulin levels (leading to insulin resistance) is one of the top causes, if not the most common cause, of weight gain and trouble losing weight," explains Will Cole, D.C., an mbg Collective member and author of the best-selling Ketotarian. "Our body is not a calorie calculator as much as it is a chemistry lab. The foods we eat dynamically instruct our metabolism and biochemistry as a whole how to function." Cole says that calories matter, but secondarily to the quality and type of food we eat. "Three hundred grams of sugar doesn't behave the same way in our body as 300 grams of healthy fats do," he says. "The messages that our food tells our hormones, brain, and microbiome is the foundation of metabolic health or health problems."
If you're with me so far (and I know that, even backed by science, it can be hard to let go of the ideas we grew up with, so entangled are they in our psychology—even my own mother still eyes nuts and oils with suspicion), you might be wondering which fats are the best for weight loss. There is a hierarchy, of course—swinging by your local fast food joint for some greasy fries will still negatively affect your body's fat accumulation because of precisely the systemic issues referenced above. On the other hand, there are a few fats that are particularly suited for helping your body maintain a healthy, happy weight:
The little brain-shaped nut offers a number of benefits when it comes to weight loss, particularly as achieving a balanced weight pertains to inflammation. "We all know nuts are heart healthy but you get a great double punch with walnuts,” explains best-selling author JJ Virgin. "First, they contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which has been shown to lower c-reactive protein and reduce inflammation. They can also help prepare your body to handle stress better! Handling stress is key for dealing with belly fat and cravings, so this is a double win." The reason? High stress levels increase cortisol, which plays a huge role in making the body hold on to belly fat. In fact, one study looked at the cortisol levels of 41 women1 and found that those with high levels of visceral fat had significantly greater cortisol spikes during times of stress as well as for a full hour after the stressful event had passed. Keeping stress and cortisol correspondingly low is key to hitting your happy weight—and walnuts are one of the best foods you can eat to help with that. I love making a warming walnut soup (recipe here) in the winter, which also features another one of the top fats for weight loss. You can also add walnuts to your salads, sprinkle them on your oatmeal, or use them to top pasta for added crunch. Bonus points if you gently toast them first: 10 minutes or so in a 350-degree oven will elevate their flavor and make them easier to digest.
2. MCT Oil
Widely popularized by the Bulletproof coffee set, MCT oil is found in a number of common foods we eat, including coconut oil, palm kernel oil, cheese, and more. "Healthy MCT fats are largely missing from the modern Western diet," explains Cole. "These little guys are a kind of saturated fat and are very easy for your body to break down and use for fuel compared to the more common LCT (long-chain triglyceride) fats." Now, you can buy isolated MCT oil in most naturally oriented stores, or you can simply add more coconut oil, the most MCT-oil-rich food, to your diet. "MCT oil is a favorite for weight loss because it burns quickly, is turned into energy, and boosts your metabolism," explains Frank Lipman, M.D., the famed celebrity doctor and author of How to Be Well. He recommends consuming MCT oil in smoothies or blending it into hot beverages to make a latte-like beverage. Three minor caveats: You'll want to start slow, as too much MCT oil can cause stomach upset. "Start with 1 teaspoon per day and work your way up to 2 to 3 tablespoons a day," says Cole. You also want to use MCT oil in foods rather than as a cooking oil (choose its whole-food form, coconut oil, for pan-frying and baking). Finally, Lipman warns that when using fat for weight loss, you want to keep carbohydrates fairly low. "High fat plus excessive carbohydrates will derail you," he explains.
3. Extra-virgin olive oil
This is a staple of the Mediterranean diet, and I've already shared my love of olive oil as a powerful anti-inflammatory food (which accounts for its ability to make skin glow, even during frigid East Coast winters), so it was less than surprising to find out its myriad direct benefits for weight loss too. "Diets higher in olive oil have been shown2 to lead to more weight loss than a lower-fat diet over eight weeks of comparison," says Cole. The reason, Cole explains, is "oleic acid, the main fatty acid found in extra-virgin olive oil, which enhances the neurons that promote weight loss3." Ignore the rumors you've heard about olive oil not being stable enough to cook with—as long as you get a high-quality one (find out how to tell here), it's fine for pan-sauteing and even baking. I like to use it whenever I'm cooking something with an Italian or Mediterranean flavor (think rosemary, not curry). It's also a great carrier for other flavors—warming some garlic in olive oil will infuse the flavor into anything you subsequently use the oil for, making it an easy win whether you're making cauliflower gnocchi or a quick salad dressing.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.