Fats. It’s something most of us are afraid of. We don’t want to get fat. We’re told not to eat too much fat, so we reach for low-fat and non-fat foods instead of butter and lard.
Plus, to top it off, we know that some fats are actually bad for us. So, in this fatphobia, we boycott all of them: saturated, monounsaturated, animal fats, plant oils, and hydrogenated fats.
Better safe than sorry, right? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, not consuming certain fats in the right amount deprives your body of essential nutrients. So, here’s everything you need to know about fat.
Why Are Fats Important?
You’ve probably heard the claim that high-fat diets are the surest way to heart disease. But there’s no scientific evidence that dietary saturated fats increase your cardiovascular or coronary heart disease risk. Nor is there much proof that more dietary saturated fats lead to higher cholesterol levels.
On the contrary, trans fats are probably more detrimental to your cardiovascular system than saturated fats!
As you can see, not all fat is made equal. Not only are saturated fats okay for your heart health, but healthy fats support many other areas of your body. Some support healthy brain function. That’s because your brain and central nervous system are made up of 60 percent fat, so you need fat to keep these super important organs and systems healthy and well!
Fats are also necessary building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. They also house fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E and K.
As you can see, it’s not all or nothing regarding dietary fats. Some are not only safe but necessary components of a healthy lifestyle.
Function of Fats
You’re probably used to thinking that carbohydrates are the go-to energy source. However, according to Mary Enig, Ph.D., and traditional diet expert, Sally Fallon, “Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet.”
That’s why including fat in each meal will help you feel fuller and satisfied for longer. With healthy fats, you get more bang for your buck.
Now that we know just how necessary and beneficial fats are for your body let’s take a closer look at the different types of fats. This way, you’ll know which ones to include and which ones to avoid to ensure that you’re healthy and thriving.
Types of Fats
There are four types of fat that you can include in your diet: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and trans fat. They’re all different, and it’s important to eat them all in the right proportion, except for trans fat. Trans fat is something you should never consume.
In fact, trans fat is so bad that the FDA issued a ban on them in 2015 and gave manufacturers three years to eliminate them from all processed food produced in the USA. We’ll talk about trans fats in a little bit. For now, here’s a brief overview of the main types of fats, and some of the food examples for each of them.
What Are Saturated Fats?
Saturated fat stays solid at room temperature. They are medium-chain fatty acids and come from animal fats, such as butter, ghee, cheese, and cream.
Other animal fats like tallow and lard are options, too. Even women’s breast milk is made up of 40 percent saturated fat. Coconut oil is an excellent example of a plant-based saturated fat.
How much saturated fat should you eat each day? You should aim to consume 20-30 grams of saturated fats daily.
What Are Monounsaturated Fats?
Monounsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature. They include foods like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, almonds, peanuts, and cashews. Why is monounsaturated fat good for you? It can support mental health and help your body protect itself from some cancers and heart disease. Monounsaturated fat can even help you lose weight.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 10 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake should be made up of monounsaturated fats. And it’s important to remember that this type of fat only has omega-6 fatty acids, and when you consume too many omega-6 fatty acids without enough omega-3 fatty acids, you can introduce certain health problems.
What Are Polyunsaturated Fats?
These fats stay in liquid form at room temperature, and they’re essential for a healthy body. They can be found in walnuts, sunflower and flax seeds, soybeans, canola oil, and fish, such as tuna, herring, trout, and salmon.
When you compare polyunsaturated fats with monounsaturated, you’ll see that they contain more anti-inflammatory properties, and they also can have a bigger impact on brain health and cognition.
Another great thing about polyunsaturated fats is that they contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and by consuming polyunsaturated fat, you will get the right amount of both fatty acids without putting your body at risk.
Polyunsaturated Fat Can Be Harmful Due to Free Radicals
Corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, and safflower oil are common examples of polyunsaturated fats. But because these oils can become oxidized (rancid) when heated too high, they can contain free radicals.
What do all of these free radicals do in the body? Too much polyunsaturated oil can increase your risk for heart disease, liver damage, and complications in the reproductive organs and lungs. Digestive problems, weight gain, and developmental issues are also connected with high consumption of free radicals.
So, when you choose to cook with sunflower seed oil or butter, opt for butter because it won’t become oxidized like polyunsaturated fats when heated. Use polyunsaturated oils when you don’t need to heat them very much, or at all.
How much polyunsaturated fat should you consume? Aim for 25-35 percent of your daily calories to come from this type of fat.
What Are Trans Fats?
Earlier, we mentioned that the FDA issued a ban on trans fats back in 2015. Why did they do that and what makes trans fats so dangerous? Hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to change their chemical structure.
So, whenever you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils in an ingredient list, it means that vegetable oils have been drastically changed with the addition of hydrogen.
When an oil is hydrogenated, it stays solid at room temperature, and it doesn’t go bad as quickly as other oils. Trans fats may have a long shelf life, but they harm your health. They raise the bad cholesterol (LDL), and they also increase your chance of heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes.
Look out for trans fats in baked goods, like doughnuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits, crackers, margarine, frozen pizza, and fast food (especially when it’s fried).
And when it comes to daily recommendations for trans fats, you should just avoid them all!
Fats can be a necessary and tasty nutrient for a healthy body and mind. You can choose from both animal-based and plant-based fat sources. Remember to include them in a balanced diet and eat them without fear. Your body will thank you.
How Many Grams of Fat Per Day Should You Eat?
As you see, fat has an essential role to play in your body, and it’s definitely not something you need to avoid. What you should do, however, is opt for healthy fats, such as avocado, olive oil, butter, or ghee, and avoid trans fats and polyunsaturated fats (when heated).
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, your daily fat intake should be between 20-35% of your total daily calories. For an average diet, this means between 44 to 78 grams of fat per day. This may be adapted based on your specific dietary needs, but anywhere around 55 to 70 grams of fat is a good ballpark to follow.
Make sure to choose healthy food sources of fats and not processed, fast food kind – then, you can provide your body with much-needed healthy fatty acids.