Dietary Fat

Fat Is an Essential Part of a Healthy Diet

Fat Is Your Friend

Avocado cut in halfEating fat DOES NOT MAKE YOU FAT! Eating sugar and other refined carbohydrates makes you fat. Sugar mobilizes insulin, the fat storage hormone, and causes a hormonal dance resulting in fat storage. I will elaborate on this statement in another article.

Overeating (eating more calories than you burn for energy) makes you fat. When you eat more calories than your body requires to maintain your weight, you store fat (gain weight). Excess calories in any form (fats, carbohydrates or protein) will be stored as fat.

Fat is one of the three macronutrients that provide us with energy (calories). We need fat to survive. A healthy diet must include sufficient amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Fat is a structural part of every single cell membrane in our bodies. Fat is responsible for many of the biological processes in our bodies and is essential for our health, growth and development.

Dietary Fat

  • Provides energy (9 calories per gram)
  • Supplies essential fatty acids that our bodies can’t produce
  • Builds muscle by increasing protein concentration and the size of muscular cells (polyunsaturated fats)
  • Builds muscle by stimulating muscle protein synthesis (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Cushions and protects our organs
  • Maintains cell membranes
  • Promotes healthy skin
  • Insulates our bodies to help regulate our body temperature
  • Insulates our nervous system
  • Absorbs and transports fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E & K)
  • Converts carotene to vitamin A
  • Gives flavor and texture to food
  • Triggers your satiation mechanism. You feel full sooner and longer.
  • Manages inflammation in our bodies
  • Plays a role in blood clotting
  • Regulates blood pressure
  • Plays an important role in metabolism
  • Plays an important role in the regulation of cell function
  • Improves blood cholesterol levels (unsaturated fats)
  • Decreases the risk of cardiovascular disease (polyunsaturated fats)
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Reduces the risk of breast cancer (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Boosts cognitive and behavioral performance (polyunsaturated fats)
  • Forms steroid hormones that are needed to regulate many of our bodies functions
  • Regulates blood glucose levels and insulin response (unsaturated fats)
  • Plays a role in the functioning of our nerves and brain
  • Promotes brain development in babies and children
  • Protects against insulin resistance (polyunsaturated fats)
  • Correlates with lower rates of depression
  • Decreases anger and irritability (monounsaturated fats)
  • Acts as an important source of energy for endurance exercise
  • Helps the body burn fat! Dietary fat helps break down existing fat.

Types of Fat

Unsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fats are important for our health. They are liquid at room temperature, but, they start to solidify at refrigerator temperatures. They are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, peanuts, olives and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats are also important to our health. They are liquid at room temperature and in the refrigerator. They are found mostly in nuts, seeds, peanuts, olive oil, fish and leafy greens. Processing and heating may damage polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated Fats

Most medical and governmental authorities advise that saturated fats are unhealthy and have been associated with cardiovascular disease. This belief remains controversial as recent studies have produced conflicting results.

Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature. They are found mainly in foods from animal sources such as meat, cheese, butter and other dairy products. Some vegetable oils such as coconut, palm kernel and palm oil also contain saturated fats.

Trans Fat

Most trans fats are artificial and are created by heating an unsaturated oil, forcing hydrogen into it under pressure, and making it more saturated. The process is known as hydrogenation. Such oils are called hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. Hydrogenation is typically done to increase the shelf life of a product or to turn a liquid into a more solid form. This is how margarine spread is made.

Trans fats are unhealthy and may cause cardiovascular disease and may increase your risk of developing certain types of cancer. They also raise total and bad cholesterol levels while lowering good cholesterol levels.

Trans fats are found in margarine sticks, fast foods, fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish), baked goods (cookies, pastries, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough), packaged snacks (microwave popcorn, crackers, chips), candy bars, vegetable shortening and other processed foods.

Foods can be labeled “trans-fat free” even if they have up to .5 grams of trans fat per serving. Check the food label. If partially hydrogenated oil appears in the ingredient list, the product contains trans fat.

How much fat should we consume?

Optimally, about 30% of our total calorie consumption should come from fat.

  • Less than 10% of our total calories should come from saturated fats.
  • About 10 % or less of our total calories should come from polyunsaturated fat.
  • About 10 – 15% of our total calories should come from monounsaturated fat.
  • Less than 1% of our total calories should come from trans fat. Ideally, we should completely eliminate it from our diets.

How do we calculate 30% of our calories from fat?

1 gram of fat = 9 calories
If you consume 2000 calories each day, 600 calories should come from fat. This means that you should be consuming 67 grams of fat each day.

2000 X 30% = 600 calories from fat
600 calories/9 calories per gram of fat = 67 grams of fat per day

Choosing Good Dietary Fats

Healthy fat choices include:

  • Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, herring, trout and sardines
  • Avocados
  • Olives
  • Oils such as olive, flaxseed, canola, sesame and peanut
  • Fresh nuts such as walnuts, almonds, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews and pistachios
  • Peanuts and peanut butter
  • Fresh seeds such as sesame, sunflower, pumpkin and flaxseed
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, mint, parsley and watercress

Image Credit: Muffet