*Originally published 4/24/20
Remember back in the nineties when we all thought that eating too much fat was making us fat? Turns out, we were wrong. Eating fat doesn’t make you fat. In fact, eating the right fat might even reduce your risk of chronic disease and increase longevity. Additionally, fat makes our food taste better, and because it takes a while to digest, it keeps us feeling fuller, longer. Let’s dive into fat a little bit deeper and get to the bottom of what kinds and how many fats you should be eating.
At nine calories per gram, fats are the highest energy source per gram of any macronutrient (protein and carbohydrates each have just four calories per gram). This tends to scare people away from eating fats, but don’t be fooled! Many healthy fats are nutrient powerhouses (I’m looking at you, avocado!), and we should aim to get 20-35% of our calories per day from fats.
There are four types of fats- 2 of them are generally considered healthy, and 2 of them not so much. Unsaturated fats are good for your body, and there are two types of those:
1. Monounsaturated fatty acids are heart healthy and help to support “good” cholesterol (HDL) and lower “bad” cholesterol (LDL). Monounsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. Some examples of these are olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
2. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are also liquid at room temperature. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are PUFAs that are considered essential to our diets because we can’t synthesize them in the body.
There are three main types of omega-3s: EPA, DHA, and ALA. Omega-3s help reduce inflammation, support heart health, reduce symptoms of depression, and reduce the risk of cancer. Sources of omega-3 include walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, tuna, chia seeds, and eggs (if the chicken ate a diet rich in omega-3s).
-Western diets tend to be high in omega-6 (linoleic acid) and lacking in omega-3, which has been shown to promote inflammation. Sources of omega-6 include safflower oil, corn oil, soy, and some nuts and seeds.
The not-so-healthy fats are saturated fats and trans fats.
1. Saturated fatty acids are generally solid at room temperature. Diets high in saturated fats are associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. It is recommended that saturated fats are limited to 10% or less of total calories consumed. Sources of saturated fats include meat, lard, and dairy.
-Coconut oil is a plant-based source of saturated fat, but unlike animal-based saturated fats, it is also a great source of lauric acid and has beneficial antibacterial and antifungal properties. It doesn’t seem to have the same effect as animal sources of saturated fat on cholesterol (in fact, it might be good for your cholesterol levels), but it’s probably best to still use it sparingly.
2.Trans fats were taken off the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “Generally Regarded as Safe” list in 2013 due to their high association with atherosclerosis and heart disease. Food companies were given until 2018 to remove all trans fats from their products, so you shouldn’t see them anymore. Trans fats were found in things like processed baked goods, frozen meals, and fried foods. If you see the words “partially-hydrogenated oil” on a nutrition label, that product has trans fat in it. This type of fat is inflammatory and should be avoided whenever possible.
So, what exactly does fat do for our bodies?
-Helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins
-Supports proper brain development
-Provides protection and insulation for our internal organs
-Helps to synthesize hormones
Without fats, our food would be bland and would lack satiety. Our hair, skin, and nails would suffer. Our brains wouldn’t function at their full potential. We wouldn’t be able to get pregnant. There are too many crucial processes in our bodies that require fats to think that we’re doing the right thing by cutting them out.
Here are a couple of my favorite healthy fats and how I use them!
-I LOVE nut butter. Especially peanut butter, but I also enjoy almond butter, cashew butter, pecan butter…all of the butters. I like to mix some nut butter into my morning oatmeal, or have it on toast, in baked goods, in savory sauces, and I even sometimes put it in chili (don’t knock it till you try it!). The possibilities are endless. I also love a handful of nuts as a snack, or as a topping on a salad. Not only are nuts a source of healthy fat, but they pack a protein punch, and are also a good source of fiber.
-Another versatile ingredient! I love it on toast, especially topped with an egg, but it’s also great as a spread for a sandwich or burger, with tortilla chips as guacamole, on a salad, on chili or any spicy dish, in smoothies, and in baked goods! In addition to fats, avocados are also a great source of fiber, and they contain 40% more potassium than bananas!
-I love how chia seeds act as a thickener when they’re mixed with liquid. They’re great in overnight oats, and I love to make jam with frozen or fresh fruit and chia seeds. Chia seeds (and flaxseeds) can also be used as an egg substitute in baking. Chia seeds are a great source of omega 3’s (ALA in particular) and are also high in fiber!
-Olive oil is my go-to cooking oil. I use it for sauteing, roasting, salad dressings, and sometimes even baking! It contains vitamins E and K, and is loaded with antioxidants.
When it comes down to it, all macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates) are necessary for our bodies to function properly, so we shouldn’t discriminate against any one of them. If you’d like more information on how to eat a balanced diet (without “dieting”) contact me for a free, no obligation consultation!