The South Beach Diet is a low carb, not a low fat lifestyle. There’s a reason for that: Your body needs Healthy Fats. Fat provides energy. Fat helps your body absorb vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cells and protect nerves. Plus, it’s essential for blood clotting, muscle movement and reducing inflammation, says Harvard Health.
Often, low fat lifestyles fail because they eliminate all fats—including good (mono- and polyunsaturated) fats the body needs to perform all of the aforementioned functions. Alternately, low carb lifestyles succeed because they eliminate refined carbs (which offer no nutritional benefits) and retrain the body to use fat, protein, and complex carbs as fuel.
So, what’s the “skinny” on Healthy Fats and how do they play a role in your South Beach meal plan? We’ve got it all mapped out for you:
What Are Healthy Fats?
As we mentioned earlier, mono- and polyunsaturated fats are considered good fats and they’re what the South Beach Diet calls “Healthy Fats.” On meal occasions where you are DIY’ing (for both men and women), you will have the added flexibility to be creative with your Healthy Fat servings. Learn everything you need to know about DIY meals here >
- Monounsaturated Fats: Olive oil is one of the most popular monounsaturated fats, and one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil counts as one serving on the South Beach Diet. Avocados, peanut butter, canola oil—as well as nuts and seeds—are all examples of monounsaturated-rich Healthy Fats you’ll enjoy. In addition to lowering cholesterol levels, monounsaturated fats provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells as well as Vitamin E, an antioxidant Americans need more of, according to the American Heart Association.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Both are essential fats, and according to Eufic.org, you must get these fatty acids them from food for growth and repair, anti-inflammatory benefits and heart health. Plus, these fatty acids may help prevent diabetes and certain types of cancers. Fatty fish like salmon or sardines provide this good fat, as do flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil and soybean oil. But beware of what foods healthy fats, and how much of each, you consume. According to Healthline, a diet that has an elevated omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can contribute to an increase in inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, are considered a leader in anti-inflammation, so increasing your omega-3 intake while not overdoing your omega-6 intake can help promote a more balanced lifestyle.
The Other Guys
The worst kind of fat is trans fat, which is a byproduct of hydrogenation that’s used to turn healthy oils into solids and prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fat increases harmful LDL cholesterol and reduces good HDL cholesterol. Even small amounts can cause harm: For every two percent of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23 percent, says Harvard Health.
Quick Tip: A serving of food with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat can be labeled as zero grams, according to the Mayo Clinic. To be sure you’re truly avoiding foods that contain trans fats, check ingredient lists for the term “partially hydrogenated.”
The other type of fat is saturated fat—bacon grease, red meat, dairy fat and coconut oil. It’s true that too much saturated fat can raise your cholesterol and lead to heart disease. But, according to a meta-analysis, published in the March 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the correlation between heart disease and saturated fat isn’t as cut and dry as with trans fats. One study said there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that saturated fats increase the risk of heart disease but replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat does reduce the risk. Two more studies found similar results and recommended that polyunsaturated fats and high fiber carbs should be eaten in place of saturated fat to best prevent risk of disease.
On the South Beach Diet, we advocate eating some saturated fat rich foods like full fat dairy and coconut oil because we look at the whole nutrition package. It’s true that large amounts of butter and cream can attribute to obesity and cause heart disease, however the opposite effect occurs when they’re consumed in moderation, as shown in studies published by the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in February 2006 and June 2010. Yes, coconut oil contains about 90 percent saturated fat but gives good HDL cholesterol a significant boost. Coconut oil also contains phytochemicals and medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) that have been proven effective in weight loss efforts, according to Harvard Health. In fact, often times when fat is removed from dairy to make a “low fat” version, it’s replaced with more sugars. Research also suggests that consuming full fat dairy in moderation can be more satiating than a lower fat alternative—keeping you feeling full for longer!
You can also enjoy MCT oils, or medium-chain triglycerides, on our plan. According to Healthline, MCTs are metabolized differently than LCTs, or long-chain triglycerides. Research has shown that MCT oil can lead to many health benefits. The calories found in MCTs are less likely to be stored as fat than other fatty acids. This is because MCTs are more efficiently turned into energy and used by the body.
Police Your Portions
On the South Beach Diet, you’ll enjoy saturated fats in moderation along with healthier unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, as well as olive and other plant oils. It’s easy to use too much olive oil when you’re cooking dinner. And it’s easy to keep on eating those cashews long after you’ve hit your 18-count limit. Healthy Fats are satisfying because they’re calorie rich, according to Times’ Healthland. So it’s very important that you measure out your cooking oil, count out your nuts and stick to the approved portion sizes. Too much of a good thing—even when they’re healthy things—can have unhealthy effects.
And yes, you really can eat mayonnaise and salad dressing. Just remember to buy full fat, oil-based mayonnaise and dressing (and watch that dressing doesn’t contain more than 3 grams of sugar per one 2 tablespoon serving.) Don’t be tricked into buying low fat or low calorie peanut butter, either. The healthy fats are stripped out and artificial sweeteners may be added. The healthiest, most nutritious peanut butter you can buy contains two ingredients: peanuts and salt. Can’t find an affordable natural option? Buy dry roasted peanuts and pop them in your food processor with a little sea salt.
While on the South Beach meal plan, it’s important to include a variety of Healthy Fat choices and not rely on the same healthy fat add-ins each day—especially if you’re hitting a plateau in your weight loss journey. Since, by nature, Healthy Fats are more calorically dense, the calories range from choice to choice. For example, a Healthy Fat serving of nuts may contain 190 calories per serving, while a Healthy Fat serving of avocado contains 150 calories, and a Healthy Fat serving of olive oil contains 120 calories. And if you feel like you’ve hit that plateau, you may want to consider being mindful of your Healthy Fats and choosing to add in a Healthy Fat serving of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (Extra) over some salad greens for around 140 calories versus a serving of peanut butter (2 tablespoons) for 190 calories–this swap out can still provide Healthy Fats in your meal plan but save you 50 calories!