When people say they want to eat more fat, I worry that they hear "YES! More french fries!" Fat, one of the three macro nutrients (the other two being protein and carbs), is critical to our overall health, but it's the kind of fat that matters most. There are four kinds: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fat, and saturated. Pick your fat wisely.
**Interesting note: you can actually create a trans fat by overheating it. Olive oil is a great good fat (see below), but once it reaches a certain temperature, it converts to a trans fat. For cooking, either use water (which works just as well) or an oil with a higher smoking point, like grapeseed. When good fats go bad...drama in the fat world. Never a dull moment.
Next up: saturated fats. Unfortunately, research is still inconclusive as to the risk v. reward of saturated fats. Found mainly in full-fat dairy products and animal proteins, some say saturated fats are necessary as it is linked to lower levels of obesity and better weight control. Others claim that saturated fats raise cholesterol and the risk for heart disease. Dr. Timothy Noakes, one of the most famous doctors to write about running and a personal hero of mine, did a full 180 on the role of carbs v. fat in runners' diets. The man who coined the term "carb-loading" by encouraging athletes to stock up on carbs pre-race was famously filmed ripping that very section out of his 940-page tome "The Lore of Running." One of the pioneers of the fat-adaption diet, he now suggest fat - including saturated fats - are a critical fuel source in endurance athletes. Carbs bad, fat good.
For me, I dunno. I don't consume animal or dairy products, so I don't worry too much about my saturated fat intake. But I think a diet high in refined carbs, particularly sugar, combined with the consumption of saturated fats minimizes the healthy benefits of the fat. (I'm coming to believe more and more that sugar, especially refined sugar, is the true enemy in our war against obesity. But that's a whole 'nother entry.) If you do eat meat and like dairy, figure out what works for you. If you are not losing weight or feel bloated with poor/slow recovery, consider eliminating it for a brief time. See what happens. I'm a firm believer that everyone is different and our bodies respond to the same foods very differently. I feel fortunate to have stumbled upon a diet choice that works well for me. My tummy is happy and my numbers are on pace - but Brian would die a slow death eating the foods I eat. We are just different. Do a little experimenting to see what works for you.
Now let's talk about some super stars: mono- and poly-unsaturated fats. Monos, like avocados, olives, nuts, and natural nut butters seeds, tend to benefit insulin levels and control blood sugar. They also aid in hormone production (necessary in men, but crucial for women), vitamin absorption, and raise levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). Who doesn't love an avocado? Try it on toasted Ezkeil bread with a dash of sea salt and a squirt of lemon juice. I'm allergic to peanuts but don't have issues with other nuts, so almond butter is a staple in our house. I'm not proud, but on tougher training days, I've been known to just take a spoon to the jar. I know, so shameful. But so delish.
Which is essentially what I've done. That food? Flaxseed.
I put flaxseed in everything. I've gone through so many bags in the last few months, I can't even count. I will drop a tablespoon of ground flaxseed in my morning smoothie, sprinkle it on a salad, bake with it as an egg-substitute. I'll occasionally bring these flaxseed cookies to boot camp or baseball games and everyone goes nuts. The response surprised me - no one ever gets excited about vegan cookies. Usually you get a few polite comments and very few samplings. But these cookies? Magical. Maybe it's because of the mood stabilizing properties of the flaxseed - or maybe we are all just so hungry after boot camp, tree bark would sound tasty.
Bottom line: cookies make people happy. Flaxseed cookies? It's a one-two punch of awesomeness.
Even though my training is going well and I'm feeling good, I still wanted to double check my overall health. Imagine if the mostly-vegan runner had cholesterol in the 200s and high triglycerides. All of this would be for nothing. So a few weeks ago, I did a fasted blood test. First, I don't recommend going to the track after fasting. I hit four miles at tempo pace before I hit a wall and limped home. Second, my age (37) has always been a scary one for me - my dad was 37 when he developed diabetes. It wasn't weight-dependent or Type II, it was genetic. His pancreas simply shut down. So this age has always been a nervous one for me (interestingly, my sister reported that same - thankfully, she cruised through her year with no issues). I'll do anything to save myself and my family from having to deal with an insulin-dependent diabetic; when he was sick, it was so stressful, particularly for my mom.
How did the blood test turn out? I'm happy to report my overall cholesterol is 168. My heart-healthy HDL is a very good 72 (anything above 60 is considered a negative risk factor for heart disease), and my "bad" cholesterol is 86 (which should be under 99). Triglycerides: 51. Boo-ya! (under 149 is good).
In short, don't fear that fat. In fact, embrace it - but the healthy kind. Stock up on flaxseed, throw out those packaged crackers, and eat some olives. And while you are at it, make some cookies for your co-workers or friends. They will be happier and healthier because of you!
Oatmeal Flax Spelt Cookies
Adapted from "The No-Meat Athlete" cookbook by Matt Frazier. Check out their website for more recipe ideas!
1 3/4 cup spelt flour
1 1/2 oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup coconut oil, softened
1/2 cup organic palm sugar
1/2 cup unrefined sugar (I like Turbinado Raw Sugar)
1 1/2 cups ground flaxseed
1/2 cup applesauce
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1 cup dried cherries
1 cup dried blueberries
Preheat over to 350 degrees.
Mix together spelt flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
Beat the coconut oil in a mixer until it's smooth. Whisk in the sugars, then stir in the flaxseed. Add applesauce and vanilla and mix until uniform.
Stir in dry ingredients. Fold in dried fruit.
Eat the batter. Share the batter with your kid. There are no eggs - no risk for salmonella! Yet another benefit of vegan baking. Try to NOT eat all the batter. You got cookies to make, remember?
Using a greased tablespoon, drop cookie dough on to cookie sheets lined with parchment or liners. Smush cookies a wee bit. If you live in a dry area, smush harder. Those in humid conditions, your cookies may flatten naturally. (it all depends on the moisture in the air).
Bake for 7 minutes, then turn the sheet. Bake 7 more minutes. Enjoy!
Makes 48-52 cookies. Try not to eat all 48 cookies at once. (Reinier, this is mainly directly at you).
Nutritional info per cookie:
- 80 calories
- 4.8g of GOOD fat!
- 1.6g protein
- 12.8g carb
- 1.6g fiber