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, PhD, author of Radical Metabolism ($18.30, 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 struggle to take in fat and sugar to use for energy. Plus, they trap toxins inside, causing damage that leads to aging and illness.
To complicate 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 Cate Shanahan, MD, Cornell-educated physician and author of Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Food ($19.03, Amazon). “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. But where are omega 6 fatty acids found? Up your intake whole foods like nuts, seeds, and full-fat dairy, which are excellent sources of omega 6 fatty acids. “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.
Health Benefits of Omega 6s
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.
Speedy weight loss is just the beginning. “Omega-6 fatty acids can also control menopause symptoms, lower high blood pressure, ward off arthritis, and help skin retain its moisture to stay smooth,” says Gittleman. What’s more, research shows that increasing your intake of these healthy fats can reduce joint pain by 41 percent and dial down stress by 51 percent. And women FIRST spoke with rave that the fats help eliminate middle-of-the-night awakenings, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and improve memory. Read on for the plan that will work wonders for you.
Bonus Benefit: Cut Migraine Risk
Avoiding harmful fats like processed vegetable oil can dramatically reduce the number of severe headaches you experience, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health. In the study, migraine sufferers who removed unhealthy processed fats from their diet and increased their intake of healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids from whole-food sources for 12 weeks suffered 80 percent fewer headaches. “What was especially interesting is that the reduction of symptoms accelerated after nine weeks, which suggests a positive feedback cycle,” notes Shanahan. “If the study duration were longer than 12 weeks, we may have seen even greater improvements — and perhaps zero migraines in some of the study participants.”
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,” says Shanahan. “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, 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 wholesome omega-rich foods that provide the body with the supplies to create healthy cellular membranes,” says Gittleman, who notes that you’ll eat your fill of healthy fats, incorporating them into every meal or snack. Top picks include almonds, hazelnuts, hempseeds, 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, acai 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, 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.
- Try hempseed recipes: “Everyone always says, ‘I wish there were a magic bullet.’ Well, we’ve found it, and it’s hempseeds,” 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 hempseeds 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. (Or try hempseeds in these Keto-friendly dessert recipes!)
- Favor grass-fed foods: 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 skipping organic vegetables and picking up pasture-raised dairy,” says 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.
Walking out of the airport into the San Diego heat, Dawn Drew felt tired, sweaty, and sore. Her thighs rubbed against each other painfully with each step. "This is horrible," she thought. "Why can’t I get my weight under control?"
Dawn had long been a yo-yo dieter. “Oprah is like my best friend — we both lost 70 pounds the same year and regained it the next,” she jokes. But at 60 years old and struggling to manage prediabetes and osteoarthritis, Dawn knew the need to lose weight was no laughing matter.
To get her health back on track, Dawn worked with nutritionist Heather Fink, RD, to create a sensible eating plan that included healthy fat sources, like omega-6–rich almonds in her yogurt and sunflower seeds in her salads. Soon, she noticed her constant cravings relent. “Once I was feeding my body what it needed, I wasn’t in a frenzy to eat anymore.”
Ultimately, Dawn melted nine inches from her hips and lost more than 100 pounds — all without exercise. Now she is focused on the future, looking forward to retiring and traveling to Italy. “Being able to walk the neighborhood without hurting is a miracle. I feel free. I am 100 percent confident for the first time in my life!”
Sample Eating Plan
Breakfast: In a blender, combine 1⁄2 cup of almond milk, 1 banana, 1 cup of frozen mango, and 1 Tbsp. of flax oil until smooth.
Lunch: Simmer 1⁄2 lb. of white asparagus, 3⁄4 cup of bone broth, and 2 Tbsp. of cream for 10 minutes; purée. Top with asparagus.
Dinner: Serve 4 oz. of beef roast with 4 Tbsp. of white mushroom gravy and 1⁄2 cup of cauliflower mashed with grass-fed butter.
Dessert: Pan-toast 4 Tbsp. each of granola and mixed nuts. Cool, then serve atop 1⁄2 cup of grassmilk yogurt with berries.
Snacks That Help You Slim
These toss-together treats make it easy to up your omegas.
Sweet-Potato Chips: Try these instead of bagged chips: Thinly slice a sweet potato, then toss with 1 Tbsp. of avocado oil, 1⁄2 tsp. of cumin, and 1⁄4 tsp. of salt. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for eight minutes or until golden brown.
Pumpkin Pie Pudding: Instead of grocery pudding cups with processed fats, whip up this seasonal delight: In a bowl, combine 2 cups of coconut milk, 1⁄4 cup of chia seeds, 1 tsp. of vanilla, and 1 Tbsp. of pumpkin spice. Refrigerate for five hours. Serve chilled.
Sesame Bars: Packaged granola bars are a top source of processed fats, but these nutty-sweet bars deliver omegas: In a glass bowl, microwave 1⁄3 cup of honey, 1⁄3 cup of almond butter, and 1 Tbsp. of tahini until melted. Add 1 cup of sesame seeds, 1⁄2 cup each of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and hemp hearts. Spread in 12-inch pan. Chill for two hours. Cut into 10 bars. Store in the freezer.
Sunflower Dip: Most dips are made with vegetable oil, but this spread is packed with omega-6s: In a blender, combine 2 cups of sunflower seeds, 2 Tbsp. of avocado oil, 2 Tbsp. of lemon juice, 2 garlic cloves, 3⁄4 cup of water, and 1⁄2 tsp. of sea salt. Pulse to combine. Serve with veggies.
Cooking Tweaks That Speed Fat Loss
When it comes to good cooking oils and bad cooking oils, adding these healthy omega-6 fats into your diet can help you slim faster — on any diet plan.
Drizzle with Walnut Oil: Walnut oil may be better known for its omega-3 content, but it also delivers healthy omega-6 fats, along with a light nutty flavor that’s wonderful in salad dressings or drizzled on steamed veggies. And Shanahan notes, “Serving vegetables with a bit of healthy fat allows the body to better absorb their fat-soluble nutrients.”
Sauté with Avocado Oil: Avocado oil has a neutral flavor and a smoke point of 500°F. This makes it perfect for sautéing or even deep-frying vegetables because you don’t have to worry about high heat damaging the delicate omega-6 fats.
Bake with Butter: Grass-fed butter is an indulgent way to add the slimming power of omega-6 fatty acids to baked goods. Simply replace the vegetable oil called for in your favorite recipes with about 20 percent more butter (so 1 cup of vegetable oil becomes 11⁄4 cups of butter).
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.