Fats – the macronutrient sugar companies want you to fear. But are fats really that scary? What are the different types and which should you eat?
You’re about to learn all that and more, but please remember I’m not a dietitian nor doctor. If you’re looking for personalized food info you’ll want to check in with one of them (and I happen to know a few I can send your way!)
You need fats to…
- Properly digest certain (fat soluble) vitamins, like A, D, E, and K
- Keep your body warm
- Support cell growth
- Grow healthy hair and nails
- Help with blood clotting
- Support brain functioning
- Produce certain hormones
Basically, dietary fats are essential to a healthy and properly functioning body, there’s no dispute over that. However, there are multiple kinds of fats in the foods we eat. The four main categories are: Saturated, Trans, Monounsaturated, and Polyunsaturated. Let’s take a look at each.
These fats are typically solid at room temperature – think pooled bacon grease. To get really nerdy, they’re simply fats that that have no double bonds between carbon molecules because they are saturated with hydrogen molecules.
Foods that contain saturated fats are animal products like meat and dairy, baked goods, palm oil, and coconut oil.
These fats raise the level of cholesterol in your blood and can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies dispute this direct link. Kind of like with any health topic, you’ll find proponents on both ends.
How much should you eat a day? The American Heart Association suggests no more than 5-6% of your daily caloric intake comes from saturated fats. So for the average person, that’s 13 grams or fewer per day.
If you’re going to kick one form of fat out of your diet, make it these guys. They are a byproduct of hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. I don’t know about you, but that sounds the least bit appetizing.
PS: You may find this type of fat listed as “partially hydrogenated oil” on food labels. You can’t trick us Mr. Label.
Just like saturated fats, trans fats increase the level of bad cholesterol in your blood and actually lower the level of good cholesterol. Plus, they cause inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic disorders – yuck, no thanks.
Where can you find these monsters? Butters, margarines, cookies, and other packaged goods.
How much should you eat? There’s no “safe level of consumption.” If that doesn’t make you want to run swiftly away, I don’t know what will.
Raise your hand if your favorite part of eating at an Italian restaurant is dipping fresh bread in olive oil? *raises hand* Then you’re a fan of monounsaturated fats. These fats are liquid at room temperature but start to solidify when cooled. This is because of their chemical structure.
Unlike their saturated counterparts, monounsaturated fats can lower the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood, contributing to a healthy heart.
Delicious sources of this fat include olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts. Talk about some of my favorite things.
You should replace saturated and trans fats with healthier options like these whenever possible, but remember – everything in moderation! There’s no recommend daily amount, so don’t go hog wild (ha-ha, hog fat is saturated anyway silly!)
These fats are essential fats, meaning your body needs them but can’t make them on its own – which is why you eat them. They assist in everything from blood clotting to building cell membranes. They’re like little workers in your body making sure everything runs smoothly.
The two main types of polyunsaturated fats are omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. You’ve probably heard of these when people talk about fish or fish oil.
But if you’re like me and your taste buds aren’t a fan of ocean creatures, you can also reap the benefits of these fats by eating flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, unhydrogenated soybean oil, and corn oil.
When given the opportunity, it’s always a good idea to cook with these types of oils as opposed to saturated fats.
Basic fat facts:
- No matter the type, each gram of fat contains 9 calories – whereas 1 gram of carbohydrate or protein only contains 4 calories.
- Contrary to popular belief, eating fat doesn’t make you fat. What leads to weight gain are excess calories in the diet.
- “Total fat” on the food label is the number of grams of combined fat in that food – typically it’s broken down into categories below it.
Eating healthy can be confusing. Especially with magazines and diet fads all touting a “quick fix.” My suggestion? Eat real, whole foods whenever possible and always read your labels. If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, you probably don’t want them in your body.
So the answer to the aforementioned question is “no!” fats aren’t that scary. Except trans fats… those guys are terrifying.