I think it’s safe to say that we have all heard someone we know make a statement that goes something like, “Fats make you fat” or “Don’t eat too much fat or you’ll gain weight.” Throughout the years, dietary fat has been a widely misunderstood nutrient with tons of conflicting research that, to be honest, would make anyone confused. We have made it to the third and final post on macronutrients and today we are talking all things fat. Fats are the most calorically dense of the three macronutrients, meaning they contain more calories per gram. Don’t be scared of the higher calorie content! Fats are essential in our diet not only for their nutrition profile, but to help us stay full and satisfied in between meals.
Fats are crucial in supporting our metabolism, keeping various body tissues healthy, immunity, hormone production, and the absorption of many other nutrients. When we consume fat, it is either digested and used for energy, stored in fat (adipose) tissue, or incorporated into other body tissues and organs. A lot of our body tissues are made up of fat, including our brains and parts of our nervous systems. Even our cell membranes are fat-based. This means that the fat we consume literally becomes part of our cells. Pretty cool, right? If fat is so crucial for our bodies to function optimally, why has it had such a bad reputation?! Let’s explore what fat is and where we can find it in our diets.
Dietary fat is primarily comprised of two molecules, hydrogen and carbon. Together these molecules form hydrocarbons (simple enough, right?). These hydrocarbons can be configured in many different ways which then can create different types of fat that all have unique properties. Wait, there are different types of fat? Let’s break it down.
There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Again back to high school biology class, you might remember studying these types of fats and their properties. Within these two overarching groups of fats, there are also poly-unsaturated, mono-unsaturated, and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Wait, what?! Here’s the breakdown.
Solids at room temperature
Primarily found in our diet from animal sources (milk, cheese, poultry, processed meats, beef, etc.)
Liquids at room temperature
Found in plant sources
Research shows these fats to be beneficial as they can improve blood cholesterol levels, aid in inflammation, and reduce risk for stroke and heart disease.
-Mono-unsaturated fats: Unsaturated dietary fat found in plant foods such as nuts/seeds, avocados, olive and canola oils
-Poly-unsaturated fats: Second type of unsaturated dietary fat found in plant foods and some seafood. These fats are considered essential fatty acids. This means that our body cannot synthesize them internally, thus we need them from our diet. These types of fats are broken down into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
-Omega-3 fatty acids: Important for cardiovascular function, immunity, brain development, and nervous system function. Sub-groups of this type of fatty acid include DHA and EPA (found in fish oils) and ALA (found in walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds)
-Omega-6 fatty acids: Similar to omega 3-fatty acids as far as their role and function; these fatty acids also help stimulate hair and skin growth, regulate metabolism, and maintain bone health and the reproductive system. Be careful! The typical American diet tends to consume up to 20 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. This is largely due to the fact that we consume a lot of processed foods rich in soybean, palm, and sunflower oils. Try opting for more nuts/seeds and less processed snacks.
So, what do I recommend? The key is to focus on whole food fat sources. Try incorporating a variety of fat types from nuts, seeds, fish, olive oils, avocados, etc. (rich in healthy fats) while avoiding processed, artificial, and factory-made foods (high in unhealthy fats). Keeping it simple is key. Adding sliced avocado, toasted almonds, pumpkin seeds, or canned salmon/tuna to a salad are great ways to incorporate added healthy fats into a meal.. Another idea is to drizzle olive oil over carrots or sliced sweet potatoes and roast them in the oven for a quick side dish! Tell me, how do you get your healthy fats in?!
Xx, Mary Claire