Remember the low-fat diet trend of the nineties? Thankfully the idea that eating a low-fat diet is good has been debunked, as more and more research shows fat is actually good for you—and a necessary part of any healthy lifestyle! Women in particular need to eat fats to keep our reproductive system healthy. As you probably know though, not all fats are created equal, so this isn't license to chow down on doughnuts all day (though a girl can dream). The key is to focus on healthy fats, which provide plenty of benefits and—contrary to previous popular belief—will help you maintain a healthy weight.
Studies have found that saturated fats, such as those in butter and red meat, aren’t as dangerous to our health as we once thought. But the healthiest fats are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These unsaturated fats improve good cholesterol levels and help prevent heart disease. Mono- and polyunsaturated fats are common in nuts, seeds, avocados, eggs, fish, and oils based off of these foods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that 20 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake come from dietary fats if you're 19 or older, and saturated fats should be limited to only 10 percent of your diet.
Need more reasons to throw off the low-fat mantle? Here are four to convince you to add good-for-you fats to your daily diet:
01. HEALTHY FATS PREVENT INJURY.
For active women, especially those who run, swim, bike, or take part in intense sports like CrossFit, healthy fats help your body stay strong and prevent injury. Researchers from the University of Buffalo surveyed 87 female runners over the course of a year and found that the ones who limited their consumption of dietary fat were at an increased risk of injury. Fifty-five percent of the runners were injured during the study, and it turns out that these runners consumed fewer calories from fat in their diet than the injury-free runners. Researchers conducting the study connected the higher rate of injury to the fact that runners on low-fat diets lacked the nutrients and energy levels necessary to healthily sustain their level of activity.
Low-fat diets in female athletes can also lead to female athlete triad—when a woman trains too much and eats too little, resulting in a low body weight and loss of menstruation (amenorrhea). The combination of low weight and change in hormones due to amenorrhea leads to a loss of calcium in bones and resulting low bone density. Women with female athlete triad are more likely to suffer stress fractures and early osteoporosis.
A low body fat percentage and loss of menstruation also decrease estrogen, a crucial hormone for building bones. So when a woman has low estrogen levels, she also experiences a decrease in bone growth and a resulting loss of bone density. Even if you’re not an athlete, eating a proper diet with enough healthy fats is important to maintain bone health. Try calcium-rich foods like full-fat Greek yogurt or chia seeds; you can improve your bone density and maintain a healthy weight necessary to produce enough estrogen and build strong bones.
02. THEY PROMOTE REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH.
Female athlete triad is only one of the many conditions that lead to secondary amenorrhea in women. Low body weight, reproductive diseases such as polycystic ovarian system and endometriosis, and metabolic disorders like thyroid malfunction are additional causes of secondary amenorrhea. While changes in diet will not cure all reproductive diseases, many women find that including more healthy fats in their diet will provide their bodies with the nutrients needed for effective reproductive function. For women who lose their period due to low body weight, adding in fats from avocados, nuts, and seeds (as opposed to those from junk food) as part of a weight-gain meal plan will help you gain enough weight to restart menstruation without compromising a nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle.
03. THEY GIVE YOU SHINY HAIR AND CLEAR SKIN.
Take a walk down the vitamin aisle at the grocery store, and you’ll probably notice the popularity of fish oil supplements. They offer a variety of benefits, including clear skin, thick nails, and shiny hair. Fish oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain healthy cell membranes and in turn protect your cells—like hair and skin cells—against harmful agents. They also allow nutrients to pass into the cells with more ease. The more nutrients your hair and skin cells receive, the healthier your hair and skin look. Additionally, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Inflamed skin cells occur when your body attempts to protect or heal itself from irritants such as the sun, irritating foods, or bacteria, and when your skin is inflamed it is more prone to acne, wrinkles, and dullness. By preventing inflammation, omega-3s help keep your skin clear, smooth, and bright.
04. THEY HELP YOU LIVE LONGER.
According to the American Heart Association, healthy fats such as those from fish, nuts, and olive oil help reduce LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol). Lower LDL levels can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke, since higher levels can lead to build-ups in your arteries. A 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that the Mediterranean diet—rich in healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and fish—is the diet most likely to prevent heart attacks and strokes, especially in comparison to a low-fat diet.
Ready to add healthy fats to your diet?
Try a few simple additions to your meals. Stir chia seeds and almonds into your morning oatmeal or yogurt. Snack on an apple or banana with peanut, almond, cashew, or any other type of nut butter. Slice half of an avocado and add it into your salad. Or squeeze juice from a lemon into half an avocado and have it as an afternoon snack. Eat omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon or tuna, for dinner once a week. The best part: They're all delicious! An excuse to eat more guacamole and peanut butter? We'll take it.