While too much of any one nutrient can contribute to overall weight gain, fat has been unjustly vilified as the culprit contributing to chronic conditions including heart disease and obesity. Popularity of low-fat or no-fat diets was the rage for decades as people assumed that by decreasing their overall fat consumption, they would inevitably decrease fat levels in their bodies. In recent years, trends swung in the opposite direction and ketogenic diets were touted as the gold-standard for weight loss. In this blog post we will explore how much, which types, and why we should be incorporating fat into our diets.
Roles of Fat
Fat is crucial to the absorption and utilization of certain fat-soluble vitamins. Without adequate amounts of fat, vitamins A, D, E, and K are unable to be absorbed and therefore pass through the body without being used, which can lead to deficiencies and various symptoms regardless of a person’s dietary intake of these essential vitamins.
Fats also play a crucial role in cell structure and function. Cells in our bodies are enveloped by cell membranes, which are made up of mostly fat. Maintaining the right balance of fat in the diet can promote healthy cell function by fortifying the integrity of the membranes.
One of the challenges of dietary fat is that it’s the most concentrated source of energy among the macronutrients. Fat provides nine calories per gram versus the four per gram that carbohydrates and protein contribute (more than double!) While people seeking weight loss might shy away from fats for this reason, our bodies require energy to function and fat can be a longer-lasting source for energy compared to carbohydrates. In fact, studies have even shown that diets higher in fat can lead to greater weight loss and improved body composition compared to low-fat diets. Fats promote longer-lasting satiety which minimizes overeating and snacking.
Alternatively, because we do encourage adequate protein intakes here at STAT Wellness, we also see people often accidentally over-consuming fat. While the fats found naturally occurring with proteins are healthy fats, when we focus exclusively on protein intakes, it’s challenging to maintain the right macronutrient balance. Years ago, preparation of food would have likely involved roasting a whole animal (like a chicken) and allowing the drippings from that meat to cook and tenderize vegetables and grains present in the meal. Today, we may roast chicken thighs, and then add sauces, dressings, and oils in the process of cooking vegetables and grains. This tendency makes it more likely for us to accidentally over consume this macronutrient.
What types of Fat are the best?
For the TL;DR edition of the rest of this article, healthy sources of fat include those found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, coconut oil and olive oil, as well as what’s naturally found in sources of muscle protein.
Fats such as trans fats, and the fat found in most seed oils largely contribute to inflammation and increase health risks. Trans fats are made artificially and are found in many processed/fried foods because they increase the shelf life of these products. There is strong research documenting the link between trans-fat consumption and heart disease – advocating that people avoid these fats/foods as much as possible.
Seed oils come from the seed of a plant (ex. Sunflower, canola, linseed, sesame oils). Technically speaking, olive oil and avocado oil can be classified as seed oils as well. However, because they have a higher ratio of omega-3 fatty acids, these are generally recognized as beneficial. The difficulty with seed oils is that it’s very challenging to dine out without coming across these in large amounts in food from restaurants, which often go unnoticed and contribute to chronic inflammation.
What amount of Fat is right for me?
Depending on your medical history anywhere from 20-50% of your total calorie intake should be from sources of healthy fats. Don’t forget, in the discussion of macronutrient balance, it is important to recognize that each category should have its own place on your plate. Aim for 50% non-starchy veggies, 25% protein, and 25% carbohydrates, and add 1-3 healthy fats as a general guide. Don’t forget, you can come in to see our dietician to find out what fat balance is optimal for you!
If you want to learn more about the best way to eat for your body, book a nutrition consult with our Dietitian HERE!