The Low Down on Fats
Updated: May 11, 2019
What are they?
Tasty! Fat is the nutrient that gives food flavor, texture, and substance. We add fats to healthy foods to give them an extra boost! Fats also have a purpose beyond simply becoming a calorie bomb. Fats are necessary to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, they are required to keep our cell structures in tip-top shape, and even our hormones need components of fat to be manufactured. Fat is not the enemy. It is a delightful, beneficial nutrient that unfortunately has been bullied by the lesser calorie-dense nutrients of carbs and protein.
There are different kinds of fats- monounsaturated (MUFA), polyunsaturated (PUFA), saturated, trans, triglycerides, and essential fats (omega-3’s). Each has its own role and purpose.
Trans fats are not generally naturally occurring and have been mostly eliminated in the food supply. These fats were used to extend the shelf life of packaged foods, or as a cheap alternative in food prep. If you see trans fats on a food label skip-it.
Saturated fats come mainly from animal sources. They are solid at room temp and make for super great re-fried beans, butter, and flaky pie crusts! Unfortunately, saturated fats also can lead to an unhealthy build up of plaque in the arteries and may lead to high blood cholesterol levels. Use saturated fats with caution, they should only comprise about 10% of your total fat intakes.
The other main types of fats- MUFA and PUFA are plant sourced, and when used to replace saturated fats in the diet can help to improve the good fat/ bad fat ratio. These fats come from nuts, seed, various oils we use for cooking and baking. They are not created equal and a diet high in PUFA fats can lead to increased systemic inflammation- a condition we like to avoid. When choosing fats, use more from sources such as olives and olive oil, nuts, canola oil, seeds, and fish.
Omega-3 fats are commonly found in fish, nuts like walnuts, and certain seeds like flax, chia, and hemp. These fats are necessary in the body as we do not manufacture them on our own but need them for many body processes. Aim for about 1-3 servings of fish a week, a well-rounded diet rich in nuts, seeds, and even supplemented omega products like eggs, some breads, and juices.
How much do you need?
In general, 20-30% of total calories should come from fat. But this adds up quickly since there are 9 calories per gram of fat versus the 4 calories per gram that proteins and carbs provide. Be careful to keep saturated fats at or below 10% of total fat calories.
The best way to enjoy fats is in combination with other foods. Add Avocado to a salad to get some healthy MUFA fats as well as improve absorption of the nutrients from the salad. Go ahead and use butter on your toast, just be aware of your portion and how it fits overall. Use olive oil for cooking and use as little as possible to get the job done! Top low-fat yogurt with walnuts to reduce the saturated fat and increase the MUFA’s.
Don’t give up on fats completely! Make informed choices and you can enjoy tasty, crunchy foods while maintaining heart health!
What about coconut oil?
Coconut oil is a palm oil which is a saturated fat. Unfortunately, it is no more healthy than saturated fat from animal sources. While there are MCT (medium chain triglycerides) in coconut oil the fat burning, metabolism boosting benefits found in MCT oils comes with 100% MCT oils. Coconut oil is only 14% MCT. Coconut does also increase HDL (good cholesterol) to a small degree, but it also raises LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol). Consider the research that continues to show that coconut oil is a saturated fat and behaves as such. Absolutely include it in your recipes, just be aware that it is not a magic answer to health and should be used sparingly.
OMEGA 3 SOURCES
For most people 20-30% of total calories (35g-50g for a 1500 calorie diet) is perfect. It may seem like a lot, but remember that fat is concentrated so a little goes a long way. Included in that number should be up to 1500mg of Omega 3 daily.* The fat to watch closely is saturated fat, keep these less healthy choices less than 10% of total fat calories.
*use caution if using blood thinners