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The Italian Experiment

italiaThis April, we spent 10 days in Italy. Best. Trip. Ever. And we ate. Everything. Cheeses, oil soaked veggies, gelato, pizza, bread, pasta…All of it. The entire week, I did not have one stomach ache (typically I average 1-2/day) and I lost weight. Truth spoken people.

Aside from moving to Italy, there is a lesson in this – and it’s two-fold.

  1. Pure, unprocessed fresh food is good for your body. Period.
  2. Fat is good.

1st point – Italians barely use a refrigerator and do not load their pantries with snacks. Most of them use the college-sized dorm room versions our kids take to school. Everything is bought and made fresh daily. They do not manufacture or consume processed foods.

Now let’s focus on the 2nd point. As I’ve written about before, we have been taught to be afraid of fat and told “fat will make you fat”. I am here, as a witness, to tell you… that is a myth.

More and more we are learning that higher fat diets help balance hormones, make vitamins (A,D,E,K) more absorbable, promote skin, hair, cardiovascular & brain health, prevent diabetes and… help you lose weight. All calories are not created equal. That is a farce. But there is more to it. Some pure logic – some scientific.

The fat you will find in a frappuccino or a milkshake (kinda the same thing), in a processed protein bar, in frozen dinners, in cookies or even in over-the-counter cheese is not the fat I am referring to. These processed fats are not pure, fresh or organic. They are simply that – processed. And your body does not know what to do with them – so the chemicals are converted to fat in your body.

Enter the scientific: The hormonal effect of food is a much bigger part of the equation and is the most important factor when it comes to fat loss. Namely, insulin (the fat-storage hormone, not fat-releasing). According to Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS – author of Smart Fat: Eat More Fat, Lose More Weight. Get Healthy Now, “the American high-carb, low-fat diet…causes a lot of insulin to be released. When insulin is high, the fat cells lock their doors and won’t release their goodies…and fat can’t be burned for fuel.”

Here’s the kicker. Carbs and protein effect insulin levels. Fat? Not-at-all. And it produces more energy per gram than any other food group. And this all works when you eat “smart fats.”

Smart fats include:

Extra virgin olive oil (hello, Italia)
Fish oil
Wild salmon
Nuts
Coconut, palm & nut oils
Dark chocolate (Italia, there you are again)
Free range, organic eggs
Fats from grass-fed organic meats

Toxic fats include:

Factory farmed meat on a grain-fed diet
Man-made processed fats and foods
Processed omega 6 veggie oils (corn, soybean, canola)
Fats damaged in cooking (see previous blog: Best Oils To Cook With)

So, the high-fat, high-fiber, high flavor, moderate protein-rich foods consumed in Italy proved to be the winners.

Try it. See how you feel and if you notice a difference. And always remember to source your fruits, veggies and proteins organically as much as possible.

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  • Sonja Gamgort

    A+ post! Should we skip the store bought packaged pasta then? Would love to look deeper at the case for eating grass fed meats versus grain fed!

    • Debra

      Organic fresh pasta is your best option. Definitely avoid grain fed meats if possible.

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Fat is Good.

Fat is Good

Our society has made us afraid of eating fat. It really took ground with the boom of the “fat-free” industry in the 80’s. The truth is, the right fats help promote health and well-being. It’s about choosing which fats to ingest. The mix of fats that you eat, rather than the total amount in your diet, is what matters most. The key is to eat more good fats and less bad fats.

Here’s the lowdown:

Fats contribute to the amount of cholesterol in your body. Very simply,Good-Fats-Vs-Bad-Fats

HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood.

LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind.

  • Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Polyunsaturated fats lower triglycerides and fight inflammation.
  • Saturated fats may raise your blood cholesterol if you eat too much.
  • Trans fats are the worst types of fat. They raise your bad LDL cholesterol and lower the good HDL cholesterol.

Good Fats: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for you. They lower cholesterol, protect your heart, reduce the risk of disease and support overall health. Omega-3 fats are in this category and are essential to physical and emotional health. They are highly concentrated in the brain and research indicates they play a vital role in cognitive function (memory, problem-solving abilities, etc.) as well as elevating your mood, fighting fatigue and controlling your weight.

 Examples of Good Fats Include:

  • Monounsaturated (the best kind!): Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, olives, nuts (almonds, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews), peanut butter
  • Polyunsaturated: Soybean oil, safflower oil, walnuts, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, flax seed, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines), tofu

Bad fats: Saturated fats have fallen into this category – however, saturated fats are ok if they are eaten in moderation. Coconut oil is a perfect example. The health benefits of coconut oil are immense, as discussed in previous posts.

Bad fats raise our cholesterol and put our bodies at risk of certain diseases. Trans fats should be completely avoided. Trans fats (hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fats and are used in the manufacturing of food to help it stay fresh longer.

  • A trans fat is a normal fat molecule that has been twisted and deformed during a process called hydrogenation. During this process, liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas.
  • No amount of trans fats is healthy. Trans fats contribute to major health problems, from heart disease to cancer.

Examples of Saturated Fats That Should Be Eaten in Moderation

High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork), chicken with the skin, whole-fat dairy products (milk & cream), butter, cheese, ice cream, palm & coconut oil

Examples of Bad Trans Fats (the worst kind!):

Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips), stick margarine, semi-solid vegetable shortening, most pre-mixed products (cake mix, pancake mix, and chocolate drink mix), vegetable shortening, fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish), candy bars

**Trick: How to tell a good fat vs. a bad fat: Trans fats and saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (think of olive or sunflower oil).

And no… fat-free foods are not healthier. Many fat-free foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories.

General Guidelines For Choosing Healthy Fats

  • Try to eliminate trans fats and limit fast food
  • Limit saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods and replacing them with low fat varieties (ie. use olive oil instead of butter, low-fat cheese vs. full fat, skim or 1% milk vs. whole milk)
  • Eat omega-3 fats every day. Good sources include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flax-seed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
  • Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
  • Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)

Lastly, enjoy eating fat. It is good for your health.

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