Fat is making headlines as the newest cure all nutrient in the wellness world. Certain media outlets have promoted them as the key to weight loss, increasing energy levels and promoting longevity.
Fat can be a confusing topic, and it seems like every day there is contradicting information about whether or not we should have any and how much at that.
Knowing how to navigate different types of dietary fat is important to knowing what you should have more of, what you should have in moderation, and what you should avoid completely.
Just like any macronutrient, too much fat in the diet can lead to some unwanted consequences. Fat is easier than carbohydrates or protein for our bodies to convert into fat and harder for the body to utilize as energy which may lead to weight gain. Too much saturated or trans fats can also lead to plaque build-up in arteries, and potentially heart problems down the road.
Although there are risks of having too much fat, it is also important to be sure you are getting enough. Some vitamins (vitamins A, D, E, and K) are fat-soluble, which means they need fat in order to be absorbed. Too little fat in the diet can ultimately lead to deficiencies in these vitamins. Fat also helps to keep you feeling fuller longer. Fat also helps cushion organs and protect vital organs.
Mono and Polyunsaturated fats: Unsaturated fats are rockstars in our body, lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol. These usually come from plant sources and tend to be liquid at room temperature. Common sources include olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil, peanut oil, olives, avocado, nuts, nut butters
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: These fats are linked to heart and brain health. Aim for 2 servings of fatty fish per week to reap those benefits.
Saturated Fats: Limit. While saturated fat does not affect your good cholesterol (HDL), it can contribute to higher levels of bad cholesterol (LDL). These fats tend to be solid at room temperature. Saturated is mostly found in animal products. Common sources of saturated fat include high fat dairy products including milk, butter, yogurt and cheese, and meats including beef and pork.
Trans Fats: Avoid. These fats are the worst for cholesterol levels because they raise bad LDL cholesterol and lower beneficial HDL. These fats also tend to be solid at room temperature, and are commonly found in pastries, shortening, lard, and other processed foods.
Portion distortion is real when it comes to fats. Healthy adults should aim for 5-7 servings. Here are some examples of what ONE serving looks like:
1 tsp oil
1 tbsp salad dressing
1/6 of a medium avocado (yes, 1/6th!)
1/2 tbsp peanut butter
1/3 ounce nuts
If you multiply these servings by 5 or up to 7, that is one way to know you are meeting our dietary fat needs. It is important to know that nutrition is not an exact science but these are the recommendations laid out and supported by research.
This was written in collaboration with my intern, Kimberly Asman, a dietetic intern at the Medical University of South Carolina.