Climbers, Love Your (Healthy) Fats

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Fat used to make me nervous. I wasn’t worried about being fat, but of eating too much fat. Four years of intense high school cross country and talk of low fat, high carb diets (carbo-loading) combined with growing up during the low fat diet craze, and the amount of lipids in peanut butter made me conscious enough to estimate a golf-ball-sized portion for my bagels. I’d pick one food over another just based on which had less fat, and I’d feel bad any time I had even healthy fats like olive oil or nut butters more than twice in a day. I had no idea of what I was missing out on.

“You’re afraid of fat Liz,” my stepmom told me more than a handful of times throughout high school. She was right, but her approach for “fixing” the problem wasn’t the most effective. I’d just deny her statement while continuing to put all my weight into squeezing every last drop of grease out of my hamburger paddy–this was before I stopped eating red meat. I wish someone had told me about the health benefits of eating (healthy) fats instead of just telling me I wasn’t eating very much of them.

Here’s some healthy fat info and what I’ve found to be true now that I enjoy lots of healthy fats, so hopefully you won’t make the same low fat, low nutrient mistakes I did:

First, let’s get one thing straight: Eating fat will NOT make you fat. Healthy fats such as those found in olive oil, salmon, nuts, and avocados are satiating. When you give your body the fat it needs, it’ll be satisfied, and you won’t be left with intense cravings like you would from eating empty carbs instead. For example, I used to rarely feel satisfied after eating dinner. My go-to snack food was pretzels, and I could easily eat half of a family sized bag in one sitting. Unfortunately, pretzels, in addition to being low-fat, are a very low-nutrient food–pretty much just highly process, nutrient-stripped carbs with lots of salt added for flavor. If I’d added some peanut butter, I would have felt full after a snack-sized portion. However, I’d recommend ditching the highly processed carbs altogether and going for something healthier and more satisfying: honey roasted peanuts, spicy or honey roasted almonds, slices of tomato with avocado on top if you’re not craving protein, or some amazing artisan peanut butter on whole grain bread.

You need to eat fats to absorb the fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) in your vegetables. Pair your raw veggies with hummus, avocado, and/or olive oil and balsamic vinegar and sauté your stir fries in coconut oil to maximize your nutrient absorption while giving yourself the healthy fats your body needs to function.

Many high fat foods have vital micronutrients. Avocados are a good source of B vitamins, potassium, folate, and more than ten other nutrients. The healthy fats therein have also been shown to help lower bad cholesterol levels. Nuts are another great source of micronutrients and fiber in addition to healthy fats.

You’ll stay warmer: High fat, calorie-dense foods like peanut butter help keep you warm and fueled when it’s cold out (calories = fuel –> heat = you warm). Pack a jar of nut butter for chilly winter bouldering sessions, ice climbing, and/or rest-day winter hikes.

For those of us who are always hungry: Eating more fat can help you stay full for longer. As my RN mother likes to remind me: “Fat, fiber: full.” If I eat a bowl of cereal with fruit and low-fat milk*, I’m ready for lunch two hours later. Lots of veggies in a 2-3 egg scramble (cooked with a little butter, yes butter!) with half an avocado and a piece of fruit will keep me full for at least four hours–pretty much the longest I can go between meals/snacks.

High fat foods pack small. Why drag around a huge box of crackers and three bananas that will ultimately get squished in your pack when you can bring 3/4 of a cup of nuts instead? Carbs are important for quick energy boosts during long days outside, but adding them to healthy fats (for example packing a peanut butter and banana on whole wheat bread sandwich) will help save space and weight in your pack and help keep you feeling full for longer.

Not sure where to begin? Try spreading fresh avocado on your morning toast and topping with tomato, melted cheese, and/or eggs. Enjoying with fresh fruit and a fresh pot of coffee recommended. Now go climbing.

*I recommend not buying fat free milk, as you won’t absorb the fat soluble vitamins therein. Instead opt for low-fat organic milk or, if possible, buy low fat or whole milk directly from a local farm.

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