When we think fat, we think that squishy stuff around our guts that we can’t seem to get rid of no matter what we do. Because of this, many of us tend to think of fat as something bad. So, when it comes to dietary fat, many of us are tempted to cut it out.
Dietary fat is essential in every diet. They provide many different functions in our bodies including:
- Long lasting energy
- Assisting in hormone production
- Forming part of your brain and nervous system
- Forming cell membranes
- Transportation of vitamins in your body
So does this mean I should be eating a fast food cheeseburger and fries every day? – No, definitely not! There are many different kinds of dietary fats, some of them are very good for you while others you will want to avoid.
The Good Guys
Unsaturated fats are considered beneficial since they help reduce cholesterol, stabilize heart rhythm, and ease inflammation. There are two beneficial types of unsaturated fats :
- Monounsaturated: not only do these guys help reduce cholesterol and risk of stroke, but they also help provide vitamin E (something that most Americans do not get enough of). These fats can be found in foods such as:
- Olive, peanut, and canola oils
- Nuts and seeds
- Polyunsaturated: these guys also help to provide fats that your body can’t provide on its own. Fats such as omega 3 and omega 6 can only be obtained through food. These fats can be found in foods such as:
- Sunflower, flax seed, and soybean oils
The Mediocre Guys
These guys differ from the unsaturated fats by the type of bonds the hydrogen atoms have with the carbon. Instead of having double bonds between carbon and hydrogen, these guys only have single bonds, thus the carbon is saturated with hydrogen. This type of fat is typically found in animals, but can also be found in coconut and palm oils.
Th reason this kind of fat is mediocre is because it isn’t exactly bad for you, but it’s not horrible either. Depending on who you ask, no more than 7%-10% of your daily calories should come from saturated fats. In recent years, studies have found that there isn’t a direct link between saturated fats and heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and stroke. However, it was also found that reducing the intake of saturated fats is beneficial as long as the individual swaps them for unsaturated fats.
By swapping mediocre fats for good fats, this helps to prevent against insulin resistance and it lowers bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol.
The Bad Guys
These guys are obtained through a process called hydrogenation. This essentially turns healthy oils into solids (basically how we obtain margarine and vegan mayo). Although they are primarily found in hydrogenated oils, they are also found in beef fat and dairy. The negative health effects of these fats include:
- Insulin resistance, this increases the risk of type II diabetes.
- Risk of coronary heart disease
- Raise bad cholesterol in the bloodstream while decreasing the amount of good cholesterol.
What has made this type of fat such a major concern is the fact that it is used for frying just about everything. This is why when you go out to eat, you are supposed to avoid anything that says it has been fried. Opt for something baked instead. The other thing to look out for is when you go grocery shopping, make sure to read the ingredients list on everything. If you see “hydrogenated”, put it back on the shelf.
How Much Fat Should We Be Eating?
Now that we know which fats to eat and which to avoid, the next question becomes: how much fat should we be eating?
Part of the reason that people are scared about fat is that it is very calorie dense. One gram of fat is equivalent to 9 calories, whereas protein and carbs are 4 calories per gram. Now, this still really isn’t that much to be worried about. Keep in mind that 20-35% of your daily calories should be coming from fat. If we do the math for this means 44-77 grams for the average woman and 55-97 grams for the average male. For women, this is just under 5 avocados a day and for men this is just under 6.5 avocados a day. So really, this number isn’t that scary. Just remember to keep an eye on your oils, the average tablespoon of olive oil contains approximately 13 grams of fat.
Eat Fat To Lose Fat?
For anyone who has spent enough time looking through health, fitness, and weight loss blogs, we are very familiar with all sorts of fad diets. However, there is some credibility to the statement that eating fat can promote fat loss.
As many of us know, our body needs energy in order to keep our metabolisms going. Since dietary fat has twice the calories per gram than other macronutrients, it is the perfect source of energy to keep our metabolism to going. Essentially, without fat in our diet, we don’t have the energy to burn calories.
Beyond this, there was a study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis that found our bodies burn subcutaneous fat more efficiently when there is enough dietary fat on hand. The study said that by having dietary fat, fat burning pathways in the liver are opened up.
Another reason for this claim has some credibility is that fat keeps us full for longer. Specifically, it has been found that diets high in omega-3 create an immediate sense that we are full and keeps us full for 2 hours after eating.
Nothing to Fear
As it turns out, there really isn’t anything to fear when it comes to fats. As with everything, there are good alternatives an bad alternatives. So next time you feel tempted to cut fats from your diet, remember that not all fats are the same and that eating good fats is actually beneficial for your body.