Statement: “Don’t Fear Fat – Fat is an important part of the diet”
Facets of Fats
Fats are good! Fats are bad! Fats are good! What to do! Just like carbohydrates, there has been a lot of conflicting information circulating around fats in the last decade. It is hard to know what is based on facts and what is just hearsay. Fat is a necessary and important nutrient in your daily diet. However, the source and type of fat makes a difference and a little goes a long way. Fat provides 9 calories per gram and there are three main forms; saturated, unsaturated and trans. Saturated fat is generally solid at room temperature and is made up of all single bonds, which allows for tighter packing. Unsaturated fat is generally liquid at room temperature and contain at least one double bond. They are some of the best and healthiest sources of fat. Trans fat is the kind of fat that should be avoided whenever possible. These fats contain a double bond, but it has been artificially processed to make a trans-double bond. This results in a more streamline molecule, making tight packing and storage much easier and dangerous.
Breaking Down Unsaturated Fats
So, as you can see unsaturated fat sources are going to be your best options for fat in your daily diet. However, there is still an ideal balance to be achieved in the types and sources of unsaturated fats. Omegas 6 and 3 are two types of essential fatty acids needed from sources outside the body. They are needed in a proper ration (1:1) to maintain proper growth, nerve tissue, skin and inflammation responses. Omega-6’s are needed to balance the inflammatory response, but over consumption can be pro-inflammatory and increase the risk of many diseases. Omega-3’s have anti-inflammatory effects and consumption in proper amounts can decrease the risk of many diseases. Sources of Omega-6 fatty acids include grapeseed oil, beef fat, egg yolks, dairy and vegetable oils such as peanut, soybean, corn and sunflower. Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids include flax seed hemp, nuts, seeds, fish/fish oil, soybeans and spinach.
Functions of Fats
Fats are essential to our health because they are involved in a nearly never ending list of functions which include:
- Making up the outer layer of every cell in the body.
- Being a usable fuel source for the brain and heart.
- Providing a slow-burning energy sources, taking longer to digest, keeping you full.
- Improving the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
- Being vital in hormone production.
- Being vital for neurotransmitter production and brain health.
- Providing insulation and protection for organs.
- Managing the inflammatory response in the body to illness or injury.
We now know how important the right sources of fat are in our diet; now we need to know how much you should be consuming daily. Fat should be an addition to your meals and you should strive for an equal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Keep intake to about 1 serving per meal – Approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, depending on the source. Calorie intake from fat should make up approximately 20-30% of your total daily intake. For most people, striving for a fat intake closer to 30% of the daily calories will help better balance macronutrient intake and create less of a dependence on processed carbs/sugars.
Fat is also the macronutrient that takes the longest to digest and absorb. This means good things for those who are trying to lose weight. Creating more balance in your diet and consuming adequate amounts of healthy fats can help improve insulin sensitivity and encourage a greater fatty acid metabolism for energy. The Standard American Diet has become so filled with high amounts of simple carbohydrates and processed sugars. This has propagated the chronic issues of obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. By balancing out the diet we can reduce the risk of developing or reverse the effects of chronic diseases and encourage the body to be more balanced in where it is drawing energy.
- If you are not sure what sources your fat intake is coming from:
- Look back at your food journaling/tracking and highlight all the fat sources in your diet.
- Make a note of whether this fat intake is non-saturated, saturated or trans-fats.
- If you need to focus on getting more healthy fat:
- Try a new healthy fat source or try using one in a different way or recipe.
- Ex: Avocado, avocado oil, olive oil, nuts or nut butters, seeds, fish, flax seed, sunflower oil, etc.
- Keep intake to about 1 serving per meal – Approximately 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon (depending on the source)
- If your fat intake is already mainly coming from unsaturated sources:
- Focus on getting the adequate amount of healthy fat in your diet, without making it the focus of your meals.
- You should strive for an equal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3
- Calorie intake from fat should make up approximately 20-30% of your total daily intake.