Fat is one of three important macronutrients that our bodies need daily. Fat gets a bad rap even though it is a nutrient we need in our diets and consuming the right kind, is essential. Let’s dive into some of the basics of dietary fats.
Why do we need fats?
Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell function. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too.
There are four major dietary fats in food:
- Commercial 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
- Non-dairy coffee creamer
- Stick margarine
- poultry, especially with skin
- beef fat (tallow)
- lard and cream
- ice cream
- palm oil, palm kernel oil
- certain oils (olive, canola, peanut, sesame, safflower)
- peanut butter
- many nuts and seeds
- soybeans and tofu
- sunflower seeds and oil
- ground flaxseed
- fatty fish
- Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that may be especially beneficial to your heart. Fatty fish — such as salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines and tuna. Plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts, soy foods and pumpkin seeds.
Why does the type of fat matter?
The “Bad Fats”, saturated and trans fats, have a different chemical makeup that makes them solid at room temperature. On the other hand, mono and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid at room temperature.
Dietary fat plays a major role in your cholesterol levels. Cholesterol is a fatty, wax-like substance that your body needs to function properly. In and of itself, cholesterol isn’t bad. But when you get too much of it, it can have a negative impact on your health. As with dietary fat, there are good and bad types of cholesterol.
HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood. LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind.
Fats have different effects on the cholesterol levels in your body. A diet high in saturated fats and trans fats raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood. Eating an overall healthy dietary pattern that is higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower bad cholesterol levels.
How much fat do we need?
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend the following targets for healthy adults:
- Total fat: 20% to 35% of daily calories
- Saturated fat: 10% or less of daily calories
Rather than the amount of cholesterol you eat, the biggest influence on your cholesterol levels is the type of fats you consume. So instead of counting cholesterol, it’s important to focus on replacing bad fats with good fats.