Sunday, January 24, 2010

Putting the Spotlight on Healthy Fats, by Patti McCabe

It’s the half hour call and you are exhausted.  How are you going to make it through the performance tonight?  Like a ray of sunshine, someone brings you…what?  A cup of coffee?  Soda?  Red Bull?  Candy bar?  Whatever it is, it’s your salvation of the moment.   Sound familiar?  Believe me, I know the drill.   The problem is that the effects of caffeine and sugar are short lived.  So how often do you find that you are back to where you started by the time intermission comes around?   The trick becomes finding a daily routine that supports you all the way to curtain call, thus eliminating the need for quick fixes that can have a detrimental impact on your short and long term health.

I have previously discussed the benefits of increasing your consumption of whole foods and decreasing processed and junk foods.  Whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables will give you longer, more sustained energy.  But in this post, I want to focus on another area, one that has become quite a hot topic in our society - especially given the prevalence of obesity issues.  While a low-fat diet seems to have become one to be admired and emulated to improve health, the truth is we’ve become so obsessed with lowering our fat intake that we are missing out on the incredible benefits that healthy fats do provide. 

Not all oils and fats are created equal. Heavily processed, hydrogenated, “trans” fats and oils that are used in prepared, packaged foods can be extremely damaging to the body. However, fats and oils from whole foods and other high-quality sources can steady our metabolism, keep hormone levels even, nourish our skin, hair and nails and provide lubrication to keep the body functioning fluidly. Our bodies also need fat for insulation and to protect and hold our organs in place.

A healthy percentage of high-quality fat in a meal satisfies and leaves feelings of energy, fulfillment and warmth. When there are excess fats and oils in the diet, especially heavily processed fats, symptoms can include weight gain, skin breakouts, high blood pressure, liver strain and an overall feeling of mental, physical and emotional heaviness. Signs of insufficient high-quality fats are brittle hair and nails, dry skin, hunger after meals and feeling cold.

There are many sources of healthy fats and oils. For sautéing and baking, try butter, ghee (clarified butter) or coconut oil because they do not break down when used at high temperatures. When sautéing foods at moderate temperatures, try organic extra virgin olive oil. Oils like flaxseed, sesame, toasted sesame, walnut and pumpkin seed are best used unheated in sauces or dressings on top of salads, veggies or grains. Other healthy fats are found in whole nuts and seeds and in their butters like almond butter or tahini. Whole foods such as avocados, olives and coconuts are great sources of healthy fat, along with wild salmon and omega-3 and omega-6 organic eggs.

When selecting oils, buy the highest-quality organic products you can afford, since cooking oils are the backbone of so many dishes. Good words to look for on the label are organic, first-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin and unrefined. Words to avoid are expeller-pressed, refined and solvent extracted.

So, when you are reaching for a snack for a quick pick me up before a performance, consider these options:
•    A few cups of popcorn tossed with olive oil and sea salt
•    Apples and Cashew butter
•    Celery and Almond butter
•    Plain avocado or Whole Grain chips with guacamole
•    Salad tossed with flaxseed oil

I encourage you to experiment with these healthy fat sources and see which work best for you and leave you satisfied.  By nourishing your body this way on a regular basis, you will start giving it the boost it needs to maintain optimal function on stage AND off. 

Patti McCabe is a Certified Holistic Health Counselor who specializes in helping the performing arts community get more out of their lives by getting more out of their food.  She received her training at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City and is accredited through the American Association of Drugless Practitioners.  She leads workshops on health and nutrition, and offers both individual and group counseling services in person and by phone.  More information at and

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