This week we will cover the third essential macronutrient, fat. Like carbohydrates, this topic has been largely disputed for many years. Our purpose today is to provide some clarity around fats (so when you hear the word “fat” you don’t automatically think “evil”) and cover some of the basics: sources, forms, functions and where they fit into our balanced plate.
Compared to proteins and carbohydrates, which provide 4 kcal/gram, fat provides 9 kcal/gram.
Sources/forms of fat include:
○ Saturated (solid at room temperature): animal derived (lard, meats, full-fat dairy, etc.) and plant oils (coconut, cocoa butter, palm/palm kernel oils)
○ Unsaturated (liquid at room temperature): Best source to look for:
*Polyunsaturated: nuts/seeds, fish, flaxseed (ideal sources), also in spreads and margarines made from soy, safflower, corn, sesame, canola, soybean, and sunflower oils (not ideal sources – refined and processed)
*Monounsaturated: nuts, olives/olive oil, dark chocolate, legumes (edamame, peanuts), avocados (ideal sources), also in spreads and margarines made from peanut and canola oil (not ideal sources)
○ Trans: hydrogenated (vegetable) oils are often in commercial baked goods, fried foods, cookies/crackers, etc.) They should be avoided.
Types of unsaturated fatty acids:
○ Omega-6 and Omega-3 are essential fatty acids needed from sources outside the body. They are needed in a proper ratio (1:1) to maintain proper growth, nerve tissue, skin and inflammation responses.
*Sources of Omega-6: grapeseed oil, beef fat, egg yolks, evening primrose
*Sources of Omega–3: flax seed, hemp, walnut, fish oil
Fat is vital to health and serves several functions in the body:
○ Makes up the outer layer of every cell
○ Helps the body with inflammation
○ Preferred fuel for the brain and heart
○ Great slow-burning energy source – keeps you full
○ Assists in vitamin absorption
○ Vital for hormone production
○ Vital for neurotransmitter and brain health
○ Provides insulation and protection for organs
How much fat should we get? About 20-30% of your daily calories should be from fat. More specifically, you should consume an equal ratio Omega-6 and Omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids. How do we work it into our balanced plate?: If we look at our Fit Plate you can see that fat does not have it’s own major section in the plate, however this does not mean that it should not still be included. You can see it added in on the side, because fat should be just that, and addition. Remember you get more bang for your buck with fat, so a little goes a long way. Keep your fat intake to about 1 serving per meal. This will end up being approximately 1-2 Tablespoons depending on the source.
○ Examples: 1T olive/coconut/avocado oil, ¼ cup nuts or seeds, ¼ avocado
To recap, fat is not to be feared. Despite the fact that fat provides more than double the calories per gram of both proteins and carbohydrates, it is essential to health. What needs to be clear is which forms are beneficial and which are detrimental to our health. Choose whole food fat, like our great grandparents ate. And make it an addition to your plate, not a whole section of it’s own.