We’ve known for a while now that our bodies need healthy fats. They improve our cholesterol and keep our brain healthy. They also relieve moodiness and depression.
And plenty of research now proves eating healthy fat even helps people lose weight.
So which fats are healthy? My top recommendations have always been the plant-based ones — olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and avocado. You can eat pretty much all you want of these four foods and you’ll get healthier with every bite. And besides the fats you get a great dose of other nutrients.
But if you want to lose weight, a certain kind of animal fat exists which can give you an extra boost…
Some animal fats contain CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), demonstrated by numerous research studies to provide a number of amazing health benefits. I first heard of CLA around 25 years ago when it made a big splash as new discovery.
But it’s never really made it into the top tier of most experts’ supplement recommendations.
Maybe they should take another look. CLA shrinks tumors, reverses atherosclerosis and yes, it even helps people lose weight and lower their body mass index (BMI). In fact, it’s so effective that CLA is popular among bodybuilders… it actually helps them burn fat and increase lean muscle.
So what exactly is CLA?
CLA is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in ruminating animals such as cows, sheep and goats. You get CLA when you eat meat and dairy products from these animals. But there’s a catch: If the animals were not grass-fed, they probably don’t have much CLA.
The magic of the CLA molecule lies in the fact that it comes in 28 different forms, called isomers. What’s so interesting about them is that different isomers seem to address different conditions.
For instance, there’s an isomer that shrinks tumors and improves muscle growth. And another one is anti-cancer and discourages your body from storing fat.1
How CLA Helps With Weight Loss
There have been quite a few animal and human studies on CLA as a possible weight loss aid, many of them (but not all) showing it can be effective.
Researchers from Japan looked at 18 CLA studies done between 2000 and 2012. 72% of them showed CLA improved a number of measurements including BMI, body fat, weight, and lean muscle mass.2
One of these studies aimed to see if CLA could help people who were overweight or obese. The study participants were split into two groups. One group took CLA over a six-month period, while the others got a placebo. Other than that, the participants didn’t make any changes in their eating or exercise habits.3
After the six months, the CLA participants had reduced their body fat mass by 3-6% — nothing that’s going to set the world on fire, but useful in combination with other steps to take the weight off. The researchers believe the participants would lose more body fat if they continued taking CLA longer, but that is just conjecture.
As I mentioned, the source of CLA makes a big difference. . .
Something Special Happens When Cows Eat Grass
CLA is complex. It requires special bacteria that are only found in ruminant animals. If you want to get the most benefit out of CLA, your best source is meat and dairy products that come from cows, sheep, and goats.
As you may know, the stomachs of ruminant animals are divided into four chambers. The first chamber is the rumen, which has special bacteria that help the animal digest grass. CLA is a byproduct of this form of digestion.
But the diet the animal was raised on is critical. A study that looked at the CLA content in cow’s milk showed the startling difference.
Cows that grazed on pasture only had a whopping 500% more CLA in their milk fat than cows fed the more standard dairy cow diet (including corn products and other supplemental feed).4
Just to get on my soapbox for a bit, corn is not the natural diet of cows. Grass is. In effect, milk and meat from grain-fed cows is processed food where the processing started while the animal was still alive.
Avoid “Reduced Fat” Dairy Products
When it comes to dairy, full fat is important because the CLA is found in the animal’s fat. Just to climb on the soapbox again, reduced-fat and no-fat milk are not natural foods. Some people hold that they are extremely unhealthy compared to whole milk. This may be more ideology than science – I’m not sure – but I do not consume reduced-fat dairy products myself.
What foods have the highest amounts of CLA? According to research conducted at Penn State, here are the top 10, starting with the food with the highest:5
- Plain yogurt*
- Sour cream*
- Cottage cheese*
- Ground beef
- Cheddar cheese*
- Ice cream*
I’m not going to wade into the controversy of whether we should eat meat and dairy products at all, and, if so, how much. But if you want to enjoy meat and dairy products, it makes sense to choose the most nutritious ones you can get. So it’s worth spending a little more for grass fed.
I eat meat several times a week, grass fed and organically grown when possible. And I eat cheese, milk and butter, probably too much of these.
Some experts hold that these are “third rail” foods we shouldn’t touch. If you can’t digest milk, obviously you shouldn’t consume it. Most people of European origin can do so, other ethnic groups, especially those from East Asia, tend to have more problems with dairy.