Diet

Drop Pounds, Balance Hormones, and Gain Energy With a Healthy Fat Diet

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Think back to the last time you touched up your deck or wood patio furniture with a fresh coat of sealant. When you first apply the sealant, it gives the surface a beautiful shine and repels water off in big droplets — all while letting the wood breathe. But after a few seasons of snow, rain, sun and foot traffic, the coating can become thin and worn, making it easier for water to seep through and mold to set in.

Now imagine that deck sealant is responsible for your health and well-being. Each and every one of the body’s 30 trillion cells is protected by a membrane — a thin layer of fat that acts as a sealant. This protective layer allows certain molecules, like nutrients and oxygen, inside the cells and keeps invading organisms, toxins and other harmful compounds out. “These cell membranes are composed of the fat you eat,” explains Ann Louise Gittleman, Ph.D., author of Radical Metabolism ($15.99, Amazon). And the type of fats you consume, she says, determines the strength and integrity of your membranes.

The problem: Processed fats in the standard American diet make cell membranes stiff and rigid. “Studies show that within minutes of digesting processed fats, the body incorporates the fats into the cell membranes,” says Gittleman. The membranes then can’t optimally take in fat and sugar to be burned for energy, plus they trap toxins inside, causing damage that leads to aging and illness.

Complicating matters: Damaged cellular membranes can cause hormonal havoc. “Our cellular membranes are embedded with thousands of hormone receptors,” explains Gittleman. “When the cellular membranes become damaged by processed fats, the hormone receptors also become damaged.” This pulls the body’s hormones out of balance, leading to increased fat storage, nagging cravings and low energy.

Even women who stick to a healthy diet are affected. “Everyone tends to think, I don’t eat highly processed fats, but we’re all eating them,” says Cornell-educated physician Cate Shanahan, MD. “They’re served in restaurants and found in packaged foods, including nut butters, salad dressings, cereal, granola bars, dried fruit and even frozen vegetables.”

Fortunately, it’s easy to avoid this fat trap and heal cell membranes so weight-loss becomes effortless. The key: replacing processed fats with omega-6 fatty acids from whole foods like nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy. “Omega-6s have gotten a bad rap in the past — we’ve been told that they trigger inflammation and that we should avoid them,” says Gittleman. “But they’re actually some of the most powerful fats for activating your metabolic engine.” Indeed, omega-6s make cell membranes stronger and more supple, so cells are able to release toxins and burn fat and sugar for fuel more efficiently.

Once you increase omega-6s, the benefits kick in fast. These fats boost serotonin levels enough to decrease appetite by 37 percent, so sticking to any diet is easier. And in a study at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, increasing intake of these membrane-healing fats helped subjects shed 88 percent more body fat over eight weeks than those who didn’t increase their intake — and women report that a diet rich in omega-6s helps them melt up to five belly inches every week!

Eliminate processed fats.

Eliminating sneaky sources of the processed fats that damage cell membranes and increasing your intake of healing omega-6 fats will shift your body into slim-quick mode — plus provide a host of other benefits, including sky-high energy, lower blood pressure, improved memory, and radiant skin. 

“There’s nothing more important than what your body is made out of,” asserts Dr. Shanahan, author of Deep Nutrition ($14.39, Amazon). “The body does its best to build strong cellular membranes with the materials it has on hand, but it can’t perform at its best without the best materials.” And Gittleman promises that the plan works fast: “Women see results in as little as five days.”

To get started, Dr. Shanahan recommends clearing your kitchen of packaged foods that contain damaging fats. Check labels for margarine, soy oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated oil, refined palm oil, vegetable oil, grapeseed oil, and rice bran oil — especially on staples like salad dressings, potato chips, nut butters, granola, and cookies.

“Restock your pantry with whole-some omega-rich foods that provide the body with the supplies to create healthy cellular membranes,” advises Gittleman, who notes that you’ll eat your fill of healthy fats, incorporating them into every meal or snack. Top picks include almonds, hazelnuts, hemp seeds or hearts, walnuts, sunflower seeds, sunflower seed butter, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, pecans, pecan butter, cashews, cashew butter, pistachios, Brazil nuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, edamame, açai berries, and white button mushrooms. And for your fastest slim down ever, try these savvy strategies:

Follow this formula.

Eating more omega-6 fatty acids will help you slim on any diet program, but for the absolute best results, Dr. Shanahan also recommends adopting a low-glycemic food formula. This type of plan dials back body-wide inflammation to speed cellular healing even more. The simple how-to: At each meal, fill your plate with 4 oz. of lean protein (like chicken breast, ground turkey, flank steak and salmon), plant-based fats (like avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds as well as full-fat dairy products) and non-starchy vegetables (like leafy greens and peppers). Limit your intake of complex carbs (like sweet potatoes, quinoa, or brown rice) to one 1/2-cup serving each day.

Reach for hemp seeds.

“Everyone always says, ‘I wish there were a magic bullet.’ Well, we’ve found it, and it’s hemp seeds,” says Gittleman. These little gems are rich in omega-6 fatty acids — plus they’re a great source of plant-based protein and gamma-linolenic acid, a fatty acid that prods the body to burn fat for fuel. The payoff: Women in one study who upped their intake lost three pounds a week without any other lifestyle changes. To get the benefits, enjoy at least 2 Tbs. of hemp seeds or hearts (usually found in the bulk bin at natural-food stores) daily. They’re delicious blended into smoothies, sprinkled on oatmeal, salads and soups or simply eaten on their own.

Favor grass-fed.

Johns Hopkins University researchers report grass-fed dairy products (also called grassmilk dairy) are a richer source of CLA, an omega-6 fatty acid, than regular milk. “It costs a bit extra — about $1 to $1.50 more — but to save money, I recommend skip-ping organic vegetables and picking up pasture-raised dairy,” says Dr. Shanahan. She adds that cheese and butter are highest in omega-6 fats, so when making a choice, opt for those first. The proven payoff: Studies show that women who consume CLA-rich foods lose more belly fat than those who don’t up their intake.

This story originally appeared in our print magazine.

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