Let’s talk fat…..
Some people fear fat in their diet and believe the myth that “eating fat makes you fat”. I will begin by saying that that is not true at all – so please don’t believe that myth.
What about the different types of fat…. saturated? Unsaturated? Cholesterol? Essential fatty acids? What are they and why are they good/bad?
Why do we need fats in our diet, and which fats are better to consume?
I thought i would do a little summary and share some of my nutrition knowledge with you all so that you can get a better understanding of fat in your diet – why you need it, what it is, cholesterol, essential fatty acids and which fats are best to consume!?
So first off, why do we need healthy fats, and what are healthy fats?I’ll keep it simple and basic as that’s all you really need to know, you don’t need to know the small details such as the number of carbon atoms and bonding of the lipids which people who study nutrition learn!
Lets start with that fat doesn’t make you fat, however an excess of energy over a longer period of time will make your body store that excess energy which can lead to gaining fat and weight. But just because you eat nuts and avocados and use oil doesn’t mean it will make you fat. However, fat does have more energy per gram than carbohydrates or protein but that shouldn’t scare you, fat does make you feel full quicker compared to carbohydrates or protein because it has a higher energy amount per gram.
Fats are necessary in your diet for:
2) So that you can absorb and transport the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E,K in your body. Without fat you wouldn’t absorb them and that would lead to problems.
3) The essential fatty acids Omega 3 and 6, it is crucial that you get these fatty acids as your body can’t make them itself and they are essential for cell function and growth!
4) For hormones. Hormones contain lipids i.e fat and hormones control alot of different functions in the body, so without enough fat in your diet your hormones can be a little off which can then lead to many other problems
5) For your nerves and brain.The brain contains alot of essential fat which is necessary for function and protection and also the nerve cells have a layer of myelin which helps the transportation of electrical messages, so without that layer of fat the messages will go slower or not at all i.e you might not be able to think as clear or concentrate as well and just feel/act/think slower.
6) For healthy skin. The cell membranes in our body contain essential lipids which can then control what goes in and out of the cells and without the fat the cells won’t function as they should. Skin can look thinner and more white if there isn’t enough fat in your diet.
7) Keeping you warm. This isn’t so much to do with fat in your diet, but more actually having fat on your body which both protects you and keeps you warm!
8) If your diet is well balanced and contains all the macronutrients you are more likely to feel satisfied after eating and not have a bunch of cravings or constant hunger!
So there are 8 important reasons to eat healthy fats… i mean if these facts don’t make you want to eat more healthy fats i don’t know what will convince you.
Secondly, what exactly is healthy fats vs non healthy fats?
So there is saturated and unsaturated fat (which is then divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and there is transfats. They are slightly different and have slightly different function in the body. (Note there are many more lipids/fats but these are the 4 most talked about).
Saturated fats and transfats increase your LDL (so called “bad cholesterol” though that is rather outdated because cholesterol is the same its just the function of the saturated fats in the body can make the cholesterol get stuck in arteries, but also depends on other factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes etc). Unsaturated fats lower LDL and can increase HDL (so called “good cholesterol”.)
By lowering your intake of saturated and trans fat you can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. Typically a wholefood, plant based diet is low in saturated fats – though of course, vegan processed food can contain saturated and transfats… so a vegan diet doesn’t automatically mean a healthy diet.
It is recommended that no more than 10% of your calories come from saturated fat, meaning c.a 22g saturated fat, if you have a daily intake of 2000kcal. (And recommended fat intake is around 30-40% of your calories, c.a 90g fat per day.)
But by replacing meat and dairy as well as processed foods with more wholefoods meaning lots of fruit, vegetables, root vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, grains, vegetable oils etc you can lower your risk of different nutrition related diseases and illnesses.
The most important thing – everything in balance. But decreasing meat (primarily red meat) as well as high fat dairy products and processed food, can make a huge difference in your health and blood lipid levels!
Saturated fats are “firm” at room temperature example butter, cheese, margarine, ice cream, fatty meats, but also milk, cream, palmoil and coconutoil are saturated fats even if they are liquids. These types of fats should be eaten in moderation.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature for example olive oil, sunflower oil, rapeseed oil etc but also nuts, seeds, avocado are unsaturated fats.
Note: You don’t need to know the difference between which foods have more monounsaturated or more polyunsaturated fats.
Most foods with fat have a combo of the different fatty acids, but predominantly have more of certain fatty acids.
And then trans fats which are hardened vegetable oils and often used in very processed food such as cakes, cookies, baked goods etc Many countries actually have a ban on trans fats as they are so negative for your health, i don’t think that is the case in USA however. I would advise you all to not eat food that contains trans fats! (However natural transfats can be found in dairy products and meat, but once again… recommendation is to limit intake of those foods for other reasons as well).
What about cholesterol?
I could write a whole post about this as there is so much to mention. But let’s put it simple… cholesterol is a type of fat which your body already produces, and it is necessary for your body to have cholesterol. It is used to make estrogen, testosterone, vitamin D and as well as used to make bile, which helps with the digestion of fat. However, you don’t need to consume dietary cholesterol.
You don’t need to eat cholesterol as your body already has cholesterol (It is produced by the liver and found in almost all cells. And the body can produce more cholesterol when it is needed). However, if your body is healthy then how much cholesterol you eat doesn’t actually impact your cholesterol levels. I.e if you’re healthy, eating 2 whole eggs isn’t “too much” cholesterol, your body can regulate the cholesterol level. However, if you have diabetes or prediabetes, or have risk for heart disease then you need to be more wary of cholesterol intake as your body may not be able to regulate the cholesterol from your diet as it should.
Also, as mentioned earlier there is no “good” or “bad” cholesterol, HDL and LDL cholesterol just have slightly different functions in the body. If there is too much LDL in the bloodstream, there is a risk that cholesterol can get stuck in arteries causing placque and inflammation, which in turn can lead to stroke and heart disease. So that is the main reason why you want low LDL levels.
The main reason cholesterol get’s a bad rep is that cholesterol is most often found in foods which aren’t the best from a nutrition point and have other ingredients/compounds (such as saturated fat) which aren’t so great in excess for the body.
What are healthy fats?
The poly and monounsaturated fats for example, nuts, seeds, avocado, salmon, olives and olive oil, mackerel.
Essential fatty acids:
Omega 3 and omega 6 are two essential fatty acids, meaning that we need to get them through our diet as our body can’t produce them. They have important functions in the body such as for blood clotting, brain and heart health, as well as omega 3 being antiinflammatory and omega 6 being proflammatory.
This is why it is important to have a balance between omega 3 and 6, so that you don’t have lots of inflammation in your body due to a diet high in omega 6.
A western diet, and even a vegan diet is often higher in omega 6 because it is found in seeds, nuts, safflower and sunflower oil, which omega 3 is often found in fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel. However omega 3 is even found in flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts – which are good plantbased sources of omega 3.
Also note that many vegan foods do contain palm oil or coconut oil which are a saturated fat and a high intake of those isn’t recommended, so just because you eat a vegan diet doesn’t mean you eat the right type of fat. But also when it comes to peanuts and peanut butter which contains alot of Omega 6, it is important to vary your nut and seed intake so that you also eat different nuts such as walnuts, almonds, cashewnuts and different seeds such as sunflower, chia, flaxseed, hemp seed so that you get omega 3 as well!
Read more about eating fish/nutrition benefits/ omega 3 HERE
Hopefully this post helps you and has helped explain – in a simple way – why we need fats and what they are. There is alot more detail of course but then it is better to contact a dietician or nutritionist who can help you specifically, but this will atleast give you some simple information!
Also to end this post, there has been the hype and belief that coconut oil is some magical oil and is healthy, however coconut oil is infact saturated and works the same as butter or margarine in the body so it’s not some magical oil. (However, it does contain some lauric acid, which is considered a MCT – which work sort of like glucose and can be sent to the liver absorbed directly into the blood stream and give energy quickly compared to the longer fatty acids which need to be broken down by enzymes and bile, “picked up/packaged” by lipoproteins and then transported in the blood. It is also said that this MCT oil is metabolized directly and not stored as fat. However, all excess energy = stored in the body. And coconut oil only has about 50% or less MCT oil, and the rest is long chain fatty acids, as well as coconut oil being considered a saturated fat. So it shouldn’t be consumed in excess.)
However it does work great on your hair, for oil pulling, on your skin, as a moisturizer, and is supposed to be antibacterial, etc etc so it has it’s benefits even if it is not magical food!
Also note, just because fat is important and necessary doesn’t mean that you should over eat on it for example LCHF. Your body also needs carbohydrates and protein, so a very high intake of fats and low intake of carbohydrates isn’t recommend as a healthy diet.
I know this may be alot of information, but i tried to make it as simple as i could – without going into too much unnecessary detail for the “average person”. When it comes to fat absorption and other areas of triglycerids and lipids, there is still a lot that is unknown. And you can go into very deep details trying to explain everything, but that isn’t necessary when you just want to know “which fats are best to eat and which should i consume less of” and “why do i need fat in my diet”.
More nutrition posts HERE
Other nutrition posts/nutrition advice HERE