Dietary Fats: To Eat Or Not To Eat, That Is The Question
Before I dive into this topic, I want to first explain the difference between dietary fat and body fat.
There are four main types of dietary fat, these are saturated fats, trans fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats. These are not to be confused with adipose tissue, which is the stored fat in your body.
Adipose tissue is made up of fat cells, which are a unique type of cell. You can think of a fat cell as a tiny plastic bag that holds a drop of fat which can be used for energy by the body when we need it.
FACT: as your body breaks down fat and uses it for energy aka weight loss, the number of fat cells remains the same; each fat cell simply gets smaller. As the saying goes, brain cells come and go but fat cells stay forever.
Anyway, back to fat and why you must include it (in moderation) into your diet.
While I was thinking about how I should write this blog, I had SO much info I wanted to share that it was all a bit much. So I have decided to do it simply as the GOOD and the BAD of dietary fats.
All humans need fat in their diet as they:
- Provide energy
- Are an essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot make
- Are a component of cell walls
- Helps our body absorb fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K
- Are a way to insulate our bodies and protect our organs
Fat tends to get a bad rap as it is usually associated with weight gain and high cholesterol. However, our bodies cannot produce essential fatty acids that come from dietary fat, and these certain types of fat give protective benefits to the heart when eaten in moderation. The key to understanding how to choose the right fats to include in your diet is understanding which are good fats and which are bad fats.
The good fats that we need to include in our diet are polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These are called unsaturated fats. These are the healthy fats you hear about that are important to include in a balaned diet as they help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol levels. Due to the fact our bodies can’t produce fat itself, it is essential we get it in our diet.
Below are the benefits of these fats and their food sources.
Polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 & omega 6):
- Can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves
- They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation
- Can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering bad cholesterol
- Lowers heart rate and improve heart rhythm
- Decreases the risk of blood clotting
- Reduces blood pressure and improves blood vessel function
- Delays the build-up of plaque (a fatty substance) in your arteries.
- Fsh, especially oily fish
- Safflower and soybean oil
- Brazil nuts
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pine nuts
- Sunflower seeds.
- Flax seeds or flax oil.
According to Dietitians Australia:
“The Heart Foundation recommends adults have 250 – 500mg of omega-3 (marine source) everyday to reduce their risk of heart disease. This is also the recommendation for those with existing heart disease. By consuming 2-3 serves (each 150g) of oily fish a week, this can be achieved. Most Australians get enough omega-6 fats from their diet. We generally need to focus more on improving fish intake to ensure adequate intake of omega-3 fats from marine sources.” (1)
- They can also help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol level reducing your risk for heart disease and stroke when they replacing saturated fats in the diet
- Beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation
- Help develop and maintain your cells
- They also help the body absorb vitamin D
- Contribute vitamin E to the diet (an antioxidant vitamin)
- Olive and canola oil
- Certain nuts (almonds, cashews and peanuts)
Saturated fats can be found in both animal and plant products. Taking in too much saturated fat is linked with raising levels of “bad” cholesterol in the blood and increasing body inflammation. We should limit saturated fat intake to no more than 10% of your total calories (2). So for an average woman eating a 2000 calorie maintenance diet, this would be 22 grams of saturated fat or less per day.
- Beef, pork, lamb, veal, and skin of poultry
- Hot dogs, bologna, salami
- High fat dairy products, such as, cream, ice cream, whole milk, 2% milk, cheese, 4% cottage cheese
- Butter, lard, bacon fat
- Tropical oils, such as palm, palm kernel, coconut oil
- Baked goods, such as cookies, pastries, croissants
Trans fat will raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and decrease levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. There are no safe levels of trans fat to eat each day, so try to avoid trans fat completely (2). Avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oils as ingredients as they too can have small traces of trans fat in them.
- Solid margarine
- Powdered coffee cream, liquid flavored coffee cream
- Convenience foods, such as certain brands of pre-packaged baked goods
- Baked goods, such as cakes, cookies and pies.
- Microwave popcorn.
- Frozen pizza.
- Refrigerated dough, such as biscuits and rolls.
- Fried foods, including french fries, doughnuts and fried chicken.
Eating certain fats is good for your health. But eating too much fat can unfortunately lead to weight gain. All fats contain 9 calories per gram of fat which is more than twice the amount found in carbohydrates and protein (they have 4 calories per gram).
It is not helpful to just add foods high in unsaturated fats to a diet filled with unhealthy foods and fats. Instead, replace saturated or trans fats with healthier, unsaturated fats e.g. replace butter with avocado for on your toast.
As we also say, everything in moderation is key!