Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Confused by dietary fats? As an active woman, you need fats for three reasons: To function (they help your body absorb the essential vitamins A, D, E and K), to build muscle (fats aid testosterone production, a main trigger in muscle growth) and to stay slim (fats take longer to digest so you end up feeling full longer, warding off the urge to overeat).
If you don’t eat enough, “You’ll break down muscle for energy, essentially lowering your metabolism,” says Ohio-based sports nutritionist Dawn Weatherwax-Fall, RD, CSSD. The key is to eat mostly healthy fats. The problem: They’re not always clearly marked on food labels, and deciphering grams and percentages can be dizzying if math isn’t your forte. For a non-intimidating way to really “get” fat, follow this advice:
Eat More: Mono and Poly
Known collectively as “the healthy fats,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help you in abundant, yet different, ways. Mono fats include olive oil, almonds, seeds, avocados and natural nut butters. Poly fats are made up of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and are found in soybean and canola oils, walnuts, tuna, wild salmon and other cold-water fish. An easy way to differentiate between the two is to think of mono fats as the bad-cholesterol (LDL) and belly-fat reducers and poly fats as the inflammation fighters and brain boosters. Both types of fat also help keep you trim by stabilizing blood sugar and preventing cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods. The key to eating mono and poly fats is portion control.
Your Daily Fix: One to two teaspoons of oil (at least one from extra virgin olive oil), one-quarter of an avocado, one to two tablespoons of natural nut butter and a shot glass full of nuts. For fish, aim for at least 12 ounces per week.
Eat Less: Saturated Fats
Solid at room temperature, these fats raise LDL cholesterol and are believed to increase your risk of heart disease, but they’re also needed in small amounts for many critical functions (bone and hormone production, for example). “Limit saturated fats to no more than 10 percent of your total fat intake,” Weatherwax-Fall says. On a food label, look for one gram of saturated fat per 100 calories. For an average 2,000-calorie diet, that’s no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day.
Your Daily Fix: 1.5 tablespoons of non-hydrogenated coconut oil, three ounces of cooked ground beef (95 percent lean) and one ounce low-fat colby or cheddar cheese.
Eat None: Trans Fats
Flying under the radar as “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” (check the ingredient list on prepackaged food labels for this sneaky alias), trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that’s been chemically altered to prolong shelf life. Excessive consumption of trans fats (a hallmark of the Western diet) is known to cause chronic inflammation throughout the body, which can lead to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and stroke in older women, according to recent research.
Your Daily Fix: Avoid packaged foods and fried fare at all costs. Eat fresh, whole foods.