The most common misconception about fat is, it’s bad. But did you know it can actually help in weight loss, disease prevention and improve brain health? Yes, it’s true! We'll tell you how.
Fats has always had a bad reputation. Mainly because in the 40s,scientific studies suggested a low-fat diet could prevent heart disease.
Then throughout the 80’s and decades after, that ideology was promoted by the government, doctors, media and health industries even without enough medical evidence to support their claims.
But today, we know better. We’ve become aware of the “good side” of fats.
We now know and understand how fat plays a role in weight loss, muscle building, brain health and overall fitness. And how essential fatty acids prevent inflammation and infections.
Along with protein and carbohydrates, fats is one of the three essential macronutrients needed in the proper function of the nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems.
Although not one macronutrient is more important than the other, fat is the most undervalued and misunderstood macro.
Proteins and carbs are about quantity. You can take as much protein as you can and less carbs.
On the contrary, with fats, it’s about quality.
While this may be true, too much fat, whether monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, could cause weight gain.
Although theDietary Guidelines for Americans doesn’t have an exact required daily intake, they recommend “Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.”
The work around is to combine a good ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet.
Fats contain numerous fatty acids that have their own essential metabolic function.
So, to help you make the right decision in choosing which fat you should be stocking up on and which fat you should cut from your diet, here’s the different types of fat.
This type of unsaturated fatty acid forms an important basis for various metabolic processes in the body due to its chemical structure.
They are vital in:
There are two categories of unsaturated fatty acids:
These fatty acids boost metabolism and are easily digestible. They’re necessary in the production of testosterone, the hormone crucial in muscle building.
Similar to polyunsaturated fatty acids, they also help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and help the body utilize fat-soluble vitamins.
Excellent sources of monounsaturated fatty acids are avocado, olive oil, rapeseed oil and peanuts.
This type of fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, beneficial for people who have rheumatism, arthritis or neurodermatitis.
Lack of essential fatty acids can cause increased susceptibility to infections, visual disturbances, muscle weakness and skin eczema.
This type of fatty acids are subdivided intoomega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Both are involved in the regulation of blood pressure, blood circulation and cell membrane composition.
To experience their positive effects, intake of these two should be balanced.
An excess of omega-6 can have a negative impact on the body, cancelling out the positive effects mentioned.
However, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements, an “optimal ratio” for these two fatty acids “has not been defined”.
“Some researchers propose that the relative intakes of omega-6s and omega-3s—the omega-6/omega-3 ratio—may have important implications for the pathogenesis of many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, but the optimal ratio—if any—has not been defined.” -National Institute of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements
Good plant-based sources of omega-3 are seeds like chia, flax, and hemp; and oils like linseed and hemp oil.
While omega-6 is common in vegetable oils like sunflower, corn, safflower, soybean; and in nuts and seeds like walnuts and pumpkin seeds.
These fatty acids have been known to be unhealthy butif consumed in moderation, they pose no negative effects on health.
The American Heart Association suggests“limiting saturated fats” and recommends only “5% to 6% calories from saturated fat.”
“Decades of sound science has proven it [saturated fat] can raise your “bad” cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease.
The more important thing to remember is the overall dietary picture. Saturated fats are just one piece of the puzzle. In general, you can’t go wrong eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fewer calories.” - AHA
SFA are energy suppliers and messengers in the body. You can easily recognize saturated fatty acids because they’re solid at room temperature like cheese and butter.
Additionally, they’re mainly found in animal products like sausages, meat, and milk. But the best plant based source is coconut oil.
Trans fatty acids, or trans fats, occur in natural and food-technological processes.
For instance, healthy fats from vegetable oils become solid in state through deep-frying or hydrogenation of fats.
Excessive consumption of trans increases blood lipid levels and the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
You can find trans fatty acids in a lot of ready-made and processed products like fries, chips, cookies, croissants.
You can avoid the undesirable side effects of trans fats by using the right oil when cooking.
Many oils are now labeled on the packaging so don’t worry about choosing the right oil.
Avocados are great sources of unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and fiber. 100 g of avocado is equivalent to 138 calories.
This amazing fruit is very versatile and can be prepared in various ways. You can add it in a salad or smoothie. Or top it on your bread with a little salt, pepper and lemon juice.
Olives contain vitamin A, calcium, sodium, iron, folic acid and phosphorus. Like avocados, they raise HDL cholesterol levels, improve skin, and regulate fat metabolism.
Black olives contain more nutrients than green olives because they are fully ripe. Native, cold-pressed olive oils are ideal for cold dishes and salads.
Olive oil contains 884 kilocalories per 100 grams, which corresponds to about 88 kilocalories per tablespoon or 10 grams.
In addition, the oil is known to be beneficial to prevent premature cell aging because of the oleic acid and vitamin E it contains.
These tiny seeds are packed with high-quality protein, iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamins and phytochemicals.
They’re considered a superfood because of its high calorie content. Chia seeds promote good digestion and detoxification.
They’re also versatile and can be used in smoothies, yogurts, oats, muesli, baked with your favorite goodies.
Flax seeds provide 488 kilocalories per 100 grams. But no more than 40 grams or four tablespoons should be consumed per day to prevent constipation from the fiber it contains.
These seeds help keep blood pressure stable and provide preventive protection against digestive and cardiovascular diseases.
Flaxseed oil contains a very good ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, 1:4. This reduces inflammation in the body, improves the moisture and structure of the skin.
Coconut fat contains high amounts of medium-chain triglycerides or MCTs. These triglycerides are absorbed easily by the body providing energy.
The medium-chain fatty acids from coconut oil are composed of lauric acid and caprylic acid which have antibacterial and antifungal properties.
These fatty acids can inhibit and even kill unwanted bacteria, viruses and fungi in their growth.
Coconut oil is ideal for frying and baking at higher temperatures as it retains its structure and beneficial effects even at extreme temperatures.
It also shows that a high percentage of saturated fat (around 90% for coconut oil) doesn't necessarily have to have negative consequences. Because the fatty acids contained in coconuts are easy to digest, very natural and highly beneficial to health!
Dark cocoa contains high amounts of healthy antioxidants, fiber and magnesium. Consumption of cocoa can lower blood pressure because of its blood-thinning effect.
The darker the chocolate, the higher cocoa it contains and lower sugar content.
Dark chocolate has 514 kilocalories per 100 grams and is a healthy source of plant based fat.
Cocoa has good amounts of fiber and antioxidants that protect the skin from sun damage, lower the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure.
Algae are excellent omega-3 suppliers and are particularly important for vegans as a plant-based alternative to fish oil.
This can be integrated in your diet through dietary supplements in the form of algae oil.
When looking for this type of supplement, it’s important to know how the algae were cultivated. Proper cultivation conditions ensure the quality of the algae.
This is another oil with an excellent ratio of the fatty acids omega-6 to omega-3--2: 1.
Rapeseed provides large amounts of essential alpha-linolenic acid which lowers inflammation and the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
This oil is also an excellent source of vitamin E. Together with carotenoids, it acts as a radical scavenger, protecting our cells from damage.
In a healthy adult diet, thedietary reference intake is a minimum of 20% to a maximum of 35% of your energy needs from fat.
This equates to about 75-77 grams if you eat 2,000 calories in a day.
Preferably, no more than 10% of your energy requirement comes from saturated fat.
Compared to animal fats, vegetable or plant based fats have positive effects on the body. It's best to choose products that contain high amounts of plant based fats which are naturally rich in omega-3 and omega-6 to maintain a balanced cholesterol level.
Fat contains important nutrients you need to stay healthy. These nutrients are present in plants, some even more so than animal products.
With a healthy diet, about 20 to 40% of energy comes from fat. Fats are vital to prevent feeling dull and tired.
How do you get the right fats? Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats as much as possible. You can do this by switching animal products with plant-based alternatives.
In this way your body gets good essential fatty acids--fats that you can only get through food and that your body needs to function properly.
Trans fat is bad for your health, it increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. The intake of trans fat can be limited by not eating too much cookies & pastries and fast food meals.
At the same time, they contain a lot of hidden fats.
Saturated fats increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. It’s recommended to use soft types of fat like low-fat margarine and oil for cooking because they contain more unsaturated fats.
Coconut oil is a special case
You have probably already noticed that coconut oil is hyped as a superfood. Some people don’t consider coconut as unsaturated fatty acids, but more of the saturated ones. Why? Simply because coconut oil provides tons of energy. It can also take extreme doesn’t oxidize when used in high temperatures unlike the unhealthy trans fats we’ve come to know.
One of the easiest ways to add healthy fats to your diet is to use healthy vegetable oils, like olive, canola, peanut, corn and safflower oils.
Try swapping your usual salad dressing for a drizzle of oil. You can also switch olive oil with flaxseed oil as this has a favorable omega 3 to 6 ratio and is one of the richest sources of the essential fatty acid, alpha linolenic acid.
The soft types of fat like low-fat margarine for bread and use oil for cooking. They contain more unsaturated fats.
However, remember that your intake should still be limited. A quarter drop in the pan is 1 serving.
Eat your favorite fatty vegetables in a variety of ways, including raw, to get a healthier fat in your diet.
Green vegetables and beans may contain lower amounts of healthy fats but are high-quality.
Avocados are full of healthy fats and are considered a superfood. 230 g of pureed avocado has a whopping 35 g of fat or 55% of your recommended daily allowance.
Seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. 1 tablespoon or 10.3 g of flaxseed contains 4.3 g of fat and has 55 calories.
The same amount of chia seeds contains about 4 g of fat and has 65 calories.
Add these to a salad, smoothie, yogurt or mix them in your bread recipe for an extra boost of healthy fats.
Look for foods high in healthy fats. If the nutrition label contains a lot of saturated fat, it’s an unhealthy fat.
Watch out for grams of unsaturated fat, including mono and polyunsaturated fats.
There are various foods high in fat, the key is finding them in sources you enjoy eating.
For whatever reason you cannot add healthy fats in your diet, including taste preference, cost, time restrictions, or preparation; use nutritional supplements to get in essential fatty acids.
However, taking supplements should be a last resort as healthy fats straight from food sources are believed to be more effective than supplemental forms.
Supplements are not absorbed by the body as well. If possible, rely on supplements only on days when you feel your natural intake is not enough.
And of course, always seek your doctor’s advice if there’s a necessity to take these or the kind of supplements you need.
While vitamins and minerals will always keep us healthy and fit, fats and oils have important roles, too.
Completely removing fat from your diet when trying to lose weight could cause more harm than good. As mentioned earlier, not one macro is more important than the other. The body needs a certain amount to survive.
Saturated fatty acids are not bad at all if consumed in moderation as part of a wholesome diet.
Consuming less calories, maintaining a well-balanced diet and following a regular exercise program are all factors to achieve your weight loss goals.
Furthermore, stay away from foods that contain trans fatty acids. These include processed products, fast food, deep-fried, ready-made food, cookies, pastries because these are made with industrially hardened oils.
Rely on high-quality fat sources by mixing up your mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids and integrate them into your daily menu.
Start today and notice the changes in your body, brain and overall well-being in a matter of weeks!
Does this article make you feel better about your relationship with fat now? What role does fat play in your diet?
What experiences have you had with the different types of fat?
How do you know you’re getting the good fat and avoiding the harmful ones?
Let us know in the comments below!