Like most health and nutrition advice, information about dietary fats is all over the place. And over the years, the suggestions and opinions on dietary fats have changed drastically.
Ever heard of someone comparing the health risks related to smoking cigarettes to that of eating egg yolks?! Ridiculous.
So we’ll cover the basics as to what “healthy fats” are, where to find them and how much you should eat.
The truth is, fats are vital to your health and hormones in a lot of ways. There are good fats and then there are bad fats that we want to stay away from.
And let’s get this straight from the beginning: healthy dietary fat (fats in our food) doesn’t make you fat – eating more food (calories) than you use, over time, makes you fat.
Some things you need to wrap your head around:
- We need adequate fat to support a healthy metabolism, to fight viruses and disease (immune system), to manage hormone production (**hint hint** dictates muscle growth, fat loss, fat storage) and the absorption of many vitamins and minerals.
- The fat we consume is digested and either A- used for energy B- stored in adipose (fat) tissue, or incorporated into other body tissues and organs. Thus, the fat we consume literally becomes part of our cells.
- Having enough fat will also help keep you feeling full between meals.
As you can see, fats are important to optimizing how our body operates.
Without getting into too much detail about chemistry and the types of fats, I’ll cover the basics.
- Saturated- come mostly from animal fats (e.g. butter, meat fats, whole eggs) and tropical oils (e.g. coconut oil). They’re usually solid at room temperature.
- Monounsaturated – come mostly from avocados, nuts, and olive oil.
- Polysaturated omega 6 – most seed oils (canola, safflower, sunflower, etc)
- Polysaturated omega 3 – Fish oil and flax oil
It’s important to note that fat type alone doesn’t determine the healthiness — rather, healthy fats are found in whole, unprocessed foods, while unhealthy fats are found in processed foods.
For example, naturally occurring saturated fats (such as coconut) are important in a healthy diet.
On the other hand, artificially created saturated fats (fats that start out unsaturated and are then chemically processed — such as margarine) are not as healthy of a choice.
Our bodies know what to do with real food. They don’t know what to do with the other stuff.
So how much of each?
- 1/3 of your fatty acids from saturated fats;
- 1/3 from monounsaturated fat; and
- 1/3 from polyunsaturated fat (with a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids)
Of course, these should mostly come from whole, unprocessed foods.
As far as how much fat should make up your daily calorie intake…
As long as: A- calories are controlled and B- protein and carb minimums are met…
I have yet to see a reason to limit healthy fat consumption. So… figure out how many calories you need to eat first, then your protein needs, followed by carb minimums based on your metabolism, activity level and goals and then the rest are left to fats!
Start with whole foods
If you’re looking to add good fats to your diet, start with whole food-based fats in their natural, least-processed state. This includes things like:
- fatty fish and seafood; sea vegetables
- raw nuts and seeds
- fresh olives
- fresh coconut; raw cacao
- pastured butter and full-fat dairy
- fatty meats if pastured / grass-fed
Choose cooking oils wisely
Unless you’re grinding and pressing your own olives or seeds, remember that all oils have undergone at least some processing.
Look for “cold-pressed” or “extra-virgin” varieties of oil where possible.
Get a mix of fat types from whole, unprocessed, high-quality foods. These include nuts, seeds (hemp, flax, and chia are especially nutritious), fish, seaweed, pasture-raised/grass-fed animals/eggs, olives, avocado, coconut, and cacao nibs.
Avoid industrially processed, artificially created, and factory farmed foods, which contain unhealthy fats.
– Nicole, Owner Elevate and Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach