Fats 101: Here’s Everything You Need To Know

fatty foods

There is a lot of confusion surrounding fat and whether it is “good” or “bad”.  

There are some people that say fat makes you fat, while others say fat should make up the majority of your diet. Who is right?

Well, the answer is somewhere in between these two extremes. Body size, weight goals, and medical issues can all affect the amount of fat that a person should eat along with the type they need to prioritize.

avocado and egg

What do we need fat for?

Fats are our top energy providers. They have the highest caloric value and provide approx. 9 calories per gram – that’s about twice as much as protein or carbohydrates (the other 2 macronutrients).

However, if we consume more energy in the form of fat than our body needs, it will be deposited in our fat stores.

Even though we usually think about fat stores when we want to lose weight, a certain amount of fat is important to keep our body healthy.

What fat does for us:

  • Protects and insulates our organs
  • Absorbs liposoluble (fat-soluble) vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Regulates production of hormones
  • And much more…

What are fatty acids and which ones are healthy?

The fats we eat can contain different types of fatty acids, including saturated fatty acids, unsaturated fatty acids, and trans fats.

#1 Saturated fatty acids

This type of fatty acid can be mainly found in animal products like butter, cream, and cheese, but also in some vegetable fats like palm or coconut oil.

Are saturated fats healthy?

Saturated fatty acids are also referred to as “unhealthy” fats, however, recent research discovered that saturated fats play a crucial role in maintaining health.(1) Our body has essential fat that is supported by saturated fat intake, and it helps our body thrive. There are layers of fat around organs for protection, fat membranes around cells for regulation, and fats that help with hormone production. 

Let’s be clear though, you don’t need to start eating sticks of butter for breakfast so that you can increase your saturated fat intake. 

What are good sources of saturated fat?

If you are not following a vegetarian or vegan diet, you are most likely getting enough saturated fat from the animal products you are already eating. These sources include but are not limited to eggs, milk, cheese, butter, ghee, chicken, beef, pork, salmon, etc.

salmon

For the non-meat eaters out there, there are still plenty of ways to consume healthy saturated fats. Avocados, nuts and seeds, coconut, coconut oil, chia seeds, and dark chocolate all contain saturated fat to support these processes.

#2 Unsaturated fatty acids

Unsaturated fats can be mainly found in vegetables oils, such as canola, olive, sunflower and peanut, and avocados, nuts, and fatty fish. 

Are unsaturated fats healthy?

Unsaturated fats provide the most benefits. They help protect the brain, decrease injury and inflammation, keep the heart healthy, and more. 

You can think of these fats as the protectors of your body. They fight to keep your body healthy from negative stress that can be harmful.  

The omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids

A distinction is made between omega-6 fatty acids (contained in sunflower, corn, and soy oil) and omega-3 fatty acids. 

Omega-3 fatty acids protect the cardiovascular system while preventing heart disease. Moreover, they positively affect our cholesterol levels by raising the so-called “good”  cholesterol (HDL) and also play a vital role in brain development. 

The amount that most people eat has started to lean heavily towards omega-6 consumption and away from omega-3, which can promote chronic inflammation in the body. Most of us are eating around a 17:1 ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s, when it should be more around 5:1.

What are some good sources of omega-3?

There are a variety of omega-3 fat sources including: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, trout, herring), avocado, oils (flax, fish, olive, avocado), nuts (pecans, cashews, almonds, walnuts), seeds (flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds). 

The great thing about these fats is that they are incredibly easy to incorporate! Try to add a source of fat to each meal in order to recharge throughout the day. This can be 1/4 of an avocado, a spoonful of oil, a sprinkle of nuts or seeds, or swapping in fatty fish as your protein source at meals.  

nuts

Learn more about nuts

Besides containing good fats, nuts have other health benefits – check this infographic to compare the health benefits and nutritional content of different nuts! 

#3 Trans fats

This type of fat can be found in heavily processed foods, fried foods, cakes and cookies, margarine, frozen meals, and more.  

Are trans fats healthy?

Artificial trans fats are created by an industrial process in which hydrogen is added to oil to solidify it. A high intake of these foods has been associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality.(2) This is mainly due to the fact that these fats lower good cholesterol, raise bad cholesterol, and promote inflammation.

Trans fats can be hidden, but your best bet is to look for grams of trans fat on the nutrition label and look for partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient section. In place of fast food french fries, try making fries at home in the oven.

A rule of thumb for your fat requirement

Fats should account for about 30% of your caloric intake.(3) Different diets, such as the keto diet, can suggest different ratios of fat, carb, and protein intake. In general, an adult needs approximately 60 to 80 grams of fat per day. When eating foods high in fats, it’s pretty easy to reach that amount…

Examples for foods rich in fats:

  • 1 cup of avocado = 22 g of fat
  • Handful of almonds = 14 g of fat
  • 3 squares of extra dark chocolate (30 g) = 14 g
  • 1 tablespoon of oil = 15 g of fat

man cooking

Fats and sports

Just like protein and carbs, fats also play a vital role in sports nutrition. Athletes should definitely keep an eye on their fat intake. US-American nutrition researcher, Artemis Simopulos, recommends 2 g omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) per day.(4) They are found in fatty fish, but also in linseeds (flax seeds) or chia seeds. One big piece of salmon or one tablespoon of linseed oil already cover your daily requirement.

Tips for your everyday life

It’s advised to use 10 to 15 g (= 2 to 3 teaspoons or 1 tablespoon) of high-quality vegetable or nut oil for cold meals. In general, try to avoid frying to moderate the amount of fat in your food.

Which oils to use for high-heat cooking, sautéing…

  • Sautéing, searing, frying: Avocado oil
  • High-heat cooking: Light olive oil, grapeseed oil, butter, ghee
  • Moderate heat roasting: Coconut oil
  • Cold plates (finishing oil, vinaigrette/dressing…): High quality walnut oil, flaxseed oil, extra virgin olive oil, pumpkin seed oil, grapeseed oil, avocado oil

Did you know…

…that fat slows down your digestion? If you incorporate some healthy fats into your diet, you’ll stay full longer. Plus, your blood sugar levels will rise more slowly when combining your meals with (healthy) fats. This helps prevent cravings.

Want to see how much fat you actually consume and improve your diet? Try the free Balance app, it makes food tracking so easy!

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