HEALTHY FATS FOR WEIGHT LOSS (AND MORE) IN PERIMENOPAUSE

health healthy eating healthy fats perimenopause weight loss women's health Jun 10, 2024

Are you still feeling the effects of the diet myths of the 80s and 90s? The ones where fats were seen as the enemy?

News flash: if you haven’t already, it’s time to shift away from that belief and embrace the truth - healthy fats are not only beneficial, but essential for weight loss and a smoother hormone transition in perimenopause. A smoother hormone journey means less symptoms for you.

WHY THE FEAR OF FATS?

For decades, fats have been unfairly vilified, sparking a war on fats that led many down the path of low-fat diets that promised weight loss and your best health. If you're like many women over 40, you might still be haunted by those days of skim milk and margarine and still be consuming them! Or maybe you’re avoiding milk, yoghurt, cheese, and butter all together because of their impact on your calorie count. (PS I hate calorie counting! It’s based on crappy science, men’s bodies, and whole foods are generally the loser with it.)

But here's the clarified (did you see what I did there?!) truth—those diets aren’t just unsatisfying; they are misguided, and were based on misconceptions that I’m going to explain further.

UNDERSTANDING FATS AND THEIR IMPACT

Fats and oils are essential for energy, absorbing vitamins A, D, E, K, and even form part of making hormones and other compounds in your body. Every single one of your cells is made up of a double layer of omega-3 fatty acids.

WE CAN’T MAKE THESE FATTY ACIDS.

I hope you just realised why you absolutely MUST consume healthy fats and oils every day! This is how you make sure your cells are built and operating the way they’re meant to. When your cells are not working as they should, it may contribute to hormone imbalances, insulin resistance, and other health conditions.

WHAT ARE FATS AND OILS?

Fats usually refers to a group or mixture of fatty acids and other compounds. While we tend to refer to them all as fats, any that are a liquid at room temperature are referred to as oils. Fats are solid at room temperature.

There are many different kids of fat and oils available to us to consume.

The structure of fats, notably the presence and number of double bonds, affects how they are metabolised. More double bonds generally mean a fluid nature - great for cell structure. Fats and oils help slow digestion and absorption of carbohydrates in the meal, which can be beneficial for weight management and cellular health.

SATURATED FATS:

Found in animal products, but also some fruit like coconuts. These fats are typically solid at room temperature, because of thier structure, which is saturated with hydrogens, that is, they have no double bonds between carbons.

Despite previous beliefs, newer research suggests that they are not as harmful as once thought, especially when consumed in moderation. This is because of the many different types of fatty acids in saturated fats. Research is showing us how valuable they are for our health. For example, the medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil are anti-microbial, anti-fungal, provide energy for the brain, support drawing fat from cells for energy, and contain many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant compounds.

Saturated fats are also useful for frying or baking, as they have a high smoke point and don’t become rancid when heated.

MONOUNSATURATED FATS:

These oils, made from fruits, nuts and seeds like olives, avocados, almonds, sesame. They generally have one double carbon bond in their structure which gives them flexibility, and keeps them liquid at room temperature but solid when chilled.

POLYUNSATURATED FATS:

These have more than one double carbon bond in their structure, keeping them liquid at room temperature or when chilled.

Part of this group are the anti-inflammatory, omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. We can’t make these fatty acids, but can make the other fatty acids our body needs from these. They are crucial for inflammation control and optimal cell function, and found in foods like fatty fish, nuts, seeds and flaxseeds.

Please note that not all polyunsaturated oils are healthy. Keep reading for my take on which ones are healthy, and those that aren’t.

TRANS FATS:

Created through industrial processing (hydrogenation), these are the unhealthy fats linked to numerous health issues, including heart disease. Found mostly in baked and deep fried foods.

EXPLAINING MYTHS: WHY FATS DON’T CAUSE WEIGHT GAIN IN PERIMENOPAUSE

It's a common misconception that eating fat leads to ‘getting fat’. This myth is perpetuated by calorie counting, or calorie restriction diets. Because fats and oils are more nutrient (calorie) dense, most people assume that eating too much of them (and therefore eating higher calories) is contributing to gaining fat mass.

Here’s a simple explanation of how fat mass works:

  1. Body fat is made up of adipose cells.
  2. When there is more glucose in the bloodstream than the cells can use for energy, it is converted by the liver into glycogen.
  3. We only have a small storage capacity in our muscles for glycogen - only 500g total!
  4. But we have unlimited energy storage in our fat cells, they can just keep expanding.
  5. Our fat (adipose) cells therefore act as a reserve of energy. And this reserve is formed through the accumulation of excess glycogen from the bloodstream.

Our body can then use the fat to sustain us in times of scarcity, or famine.

So fat cells expand because of an excess of glucose in the body.

WHAT TRIGGERS OVEREATING AND FAT STORAGE?

Three critical hormones influence our eating habits and how we store fat:

  • Insulin: Known as the primary hormone for fat storage. Elevated insulin levels prompt the body to store rather than burn energy.
  • Ghrelin: Often referred to as the hunger hormone, it typically rises before a meal and decreases about half an hour after eating. Excess weight can disrupt normal ghrelin levels, leading to increased hunger.
  • Leptin: This hormone signals satiety to the brain post-eating. However, like insulin, resistance to leptin can develop, causing persistent feelings of hunger.

Achieving a balanced body composition requires maintaining steady, low insulin levels, ensuring ghrelin spikes appropriately before meals and drops afterward, and allowing leptin to indicate fullness after eating.

Fats help stabilise blood sugar levels by slowing down digestion, which in turn reduces blood glucose and insulin spikes and crashes, because it slows the absorption of carbohydrates from your intestines to your bloodstream.

Fats and oils also promote a feeling of fullness. This is because we have a feedback loop for fats (and protein) in our brain, and it will help us feel full and stop eating. There is no feedback loop for carbohydrates.

Fats provide a sustained source of energy, avoiding the 2 hourly cycle of hunger that a high carb, low fat diet can stimulate, leading to overeating, but also higher blood glucose levels, and poorer digestive health.

THE REAL CAUSES BEHIND WEIGHT GAIN IN PERIMENOPAUSE

While it's easy to blame fats, the true causes of weight gain during perimenopause often include:

Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars: These increase insulin levels and promote fat storage, particularly around the abdomen.
Stress: Elevated cortisol levels can lead to increased appetite and cravings for unhealthy foods.
Calorie restriction and overexercising: These practices can lead to hormonal imbalances that affect metabolism and promote weight gain.
Hormonal imbalances: Particularly prevalent in perimenopause, hormonal imbalances in your thyroid can impact your metabolic rate, promoting fat storage. Lower estrogen makes us naturally more insulin resistant.

BEST FATS FOR HORMONAL BALANCE IN YOUR 40S

The healthy fats I want in your diet are monounsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, flaxseed oil, and nuts, and polyunsaturated oils in the form of omega-3s, like fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, herrings and salmon), walnuts, eggs, and chia seeds. These healthy fats are linked to strong immunity, improved cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, and improved brain functioning.

Skip polyunsaturated oils in the form of processed vegetable oils like canola, rapeseed, rice bran, sunflower, and safflower, which are made up of mostly omega-6 fatty acids and INCREASE inflammation in the body.

Incorporating the right fats into your diet can support better hormone balance and overall well-being:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from sources like salmon and flaxseeds are especially beneficial. They help modulate inflammation and support mood stabilization.
  • Monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil can improve cholesterol levels and enhance heart health.
  • Regular consumption of these fats can ensure efficient hormone production and support metabolic health.

INTEGRATING HEALTHY FATS INTO YOUR DIET

Here’s some tips to make it easy to get these healthy fats and oils into your meals:

- Start your day by adding nuts and seeds like chia or flax to your breakfast cereal or smoothie for a fibre and omega-3 boost.
- Cook with ghee, butter, olive oil or coconut oil instead of margarine for a healthier fat profile.
- Drizzle your salad or cooked veg with a delicious oil-based dressing like my honey-mustard one below. You could even make your own mayo with olive oil for a nutrient dense flavour and healthy fat dressing.
- Ideally don’t snack, but if you must, then choose snacks like almonds, walnuts, cheese or full-fat plain/natural yogurt with some fruit. Don’t snack on carb-rich foods without some fat and protein. Don’t leave your carbs lonely, serve them with their friends (protein and fat!).

RECIPE: HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING (NOT JUST FOR SALADS!)

Enjoy this versatile dressing over salads, cooked vegetables, as a delicious dip for veggies, or as a marinade for meat and fish:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 cup mustard (Dijon, wholegrain, or English - ensure no sugar added)
  • 1/4 cup flaxseed or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar (with the mother)
  • 2 tbsp honey

METHOD:

  • Combine all ingredients in a jar with a lid.
  • Shake well until fully emulsified.
  • Store in the refrigerator and use as needed to enhance your meals.

NOTES:

  • You can use this dressing on salads, vegetables, cooked or grilled meats and fish.
  • If you would like to use it as a marinade for your meats, use olive oil as flaxseed oil shouldn’t be cooked with.

WHAT'S NEXT?

I hope you now understand how important fats and oils are to your health, happiness, and weight loss.

Ready to learn more about fats and oils, how to start enjoying them in your meals, and find a happier, healthier you? Listen to our full Chaos to Calm podcast episode below.

If you want to discuss how we can help you understand what’s driving how you’re feeling, why you’re getting all these perimenopause symptoms, and how personalised nutrition can help say goodbye to these symptoms by giving your body what it needs to better adapt to the hormone changes of perimenopause, book a free Clarity Call. I’d love to talk with you about what’s going on, and help you make a plan to address it.

 
 

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