Fats play a crucial role in many body functions, however, some fats are more helpful than others. Let’s learn more about which fats to consume more of and which ones to limit.
Why You Need Fat in Your Diet
Your body not only loves the taste of fats, but it needs them! Fats play many important roles in the body, like protecting your organs and keeping the body warm. They are also needed for proper cell functioning and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fats are also a major source of long-lasting energy, providing 9 calories per gram, which is more than carbohydrates and proteins provide combined.
Types of Fats:
1. Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fats are easy to spot because they are liquid at room temperature. When we think of these fats, we mostly think of oils from plants such as olive oil and canola oil. There are other non-liquid food sources of unsaturated fats as well such as nuts, seeds, avocados, etc. Consuming unsaturated fats may help improve your cholesterol levels, ease inflammation, and decrease your risk for heart attack and stroke. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025 recommend consuming mostly unsaturated fats and that they make up 20 – 35% of total calories.
Unsaturated fats come in two different forms:
Monounsaturated Fats: eating foods high in monounsaturated fats is beneficial. They may help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol and keep your “good” HDL cholesterol levels high. Examples include olive, peanut and canola oils, avocados, nuts, and seeds.
Polyunsaturated Fats: by consuming polyunsaturated fats instead of saturated fat, you may lower your LDL cholesterol. Polyunsaturated fats are the main fats found in seafood. Some other examples include sunflower, corn, soybean, & flaxseed oils, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are two types of polyunsaturated fats.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: have anti-inflammatory properties and have been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Some food sources include: walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil and fatty fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel, and sardines. Your body can not make omega-3 fatty acids on its own so they must come from the food you eat. Learn more about omega-3 fatty acids here.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids: also help reduce the risk for heart disease when eaten in moderation and in place of saturated fats. They are mainly found in liquid vegetable oils including soybean, corn, and safflower oil.
2. Saturated Fats
A key to differentiating saturated fats from unsaturated is that they are solid at room temperature. They are mainly found in animal products and a few plant products; examples include coconut oil, palm oil, butter, poultry, fish, meat, and full-fat dairy products. The body does need some saturated fat, but if eaten in excess it may raise your cholesterol. It is recommended that a healthy diet has less than 10% of daily calories from saturated fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, 70-75% of adults exceed the 10% limit. Staying within this limit or eating unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats has shown to help prevent insulin resistance, lower risk of heart disease, and improve cholesterol.
3. Trans Fat
Trans fat is a fat that has gone through hydrogenation, which increases shelf life of the fat. We can find trans fats in processed foods such as chips, cookies, and some margarines. As trans-fat may raise your cholesterol, it’s recommended to consume as little as possible or 0% of daily calories from trans fats.
How to Incorporate Fats into Your Diet
Now you can see that a well-rounded diet should contain foods with fat. You want to choose foods high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated or trans-fat.
Here are a few tips to incorporate more healthy fats into your diet:
Use olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine
Consume fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Choose lean meats like chicken or lean beef and trim off visible fat
Consume whole foods like fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods high in saturated fat
Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy instead of full fat
So remember, contrary to popular belief, you do not need to avoid fats all together. This would not only eliminate that flavor we crave, but make it difficult for your body to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins and produce hormones it needs among other body functions. It is important to be mindful of the fats you are choosing and remember a well-balanced diet can include all foods you enjoy.
Written by: Kelly Catlin, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern
3. Mayo Clinic