Fats are one of the three macronutrients, and despite what you may have read on the internet, they are a critical part of a healthy diet.
Knowing which fats to eat is a key part of this equation.
It’s important to differentiate the type of fat – because as you probably know – pizza and avocados aren’t on the same playing field.
After I de-myth some stories about fat, I will break down which fats should be readily present in your diet and which fats to avoid.
why do we fear fat?
In 1967 a study was published that linked saturated fat to obesity and heart disease in an attempt to shift the focus away from sugar. Unfortunately, the USDA food guidelines were greatly influenced by this study. An oversimplified explanation was presented to the public: limit fats. This led the American population into a fat-hating frenzy. The food industry to note and had to make a change.
Gone were the days of full-fat yogurt and three ingredient ice cream. Fat had to go.
will eating fat make me fat?
The type of fat is an important part of this conversation. Both pizza and avocados are classified as fats. This makes it difficult to answer with a straight “yes” or “no.”
Instead of looking at a single macronutrient, such as fat, let’s look at the whole food. Pizza doesn’t deliver many nutritional benefits. In fact, it’s full of trans and saturated fats, sodium, and is a source of refined carbohydrates. On the flip side, an avocado has fiber, vitamin K, folate, and healthy monounsaturated fats. That’s a lot more than pizza can offer.
I actually love pizza. I pick on it because it’s one of my favorites. However, this is not a food that I eat often, and when I do eat pizza I never feel regret, guilt, or shame. But I don’t have a slice every day for lunch. The foods we consistently consume in our diet shape our bodies.
Just as I don’t suggest eating pizza every day – I wouldn’t suggest you eating many trans or saturated fats. However, a healthy diet should have a healthy portion of essential fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. Restricting fats will result in cravings, moodiness, poor blood sugar regulation, weight gain, and lack of satiation.
Don’t do it to yourself. Healthy fats should always be present in your diet. Don’t worry – I’ll make sure to give you a hit list of fats I love and ones you should try to avoid.
what types of fats are there?
Many fatty foods fall into several categories, this is why I try to look at the whole food product, not just the macronutrient. When you read the list of fatty foods in each category zoom out and look at the food as a whole. Even though avocados and avocado oil are both monounsaturated fats – I’m always going to go for the whole food.
I have broken down all fatty foods into the following five categories. In each section, I break down what you need to know about that type of fat and which foods fall into that category. Now go forth, and eat your omegas.
Omega-3 is the holy grail in the fat kingdom. This is where you should focus your fat intake. The benefits of omega-3 make them my top choice of fat. Eat them all the damn time.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are in cold water fish, fish oil supplements, and algae oil. They are all rich source of EPA and DHA. The FDA recommends you avoid large fish such as swordfish, tilefish, and king mackerel due to ocean pollutants. I also wrote a guide on the best supplemental sources of omega-3. So click it.
Plant-based omega-3 is a rich source of ALA. However, the conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA is less than 10 percent. This means plants are not a great source of DHA and EPA. The only exception is algae oil. If you are vegan or vegetarian please look into taking an algae oil supplement.
Omega-6 and omega-3 are both essential fatty acids and must be consumed in our diet. However, our standard American diets are saturated with omega-6 and are lacking in omega-3.
A diet high in omega-6 and low in omega-3 is not favorable. This is why I recommend focusing primarily on eating omega-3 fatty acids. If you look at the list of foods that are high in omega-6 fatty acids you will notice that most of them are oil.
Oils are not my favorite sources of fat. Instead of oils think nuts and seeds, they are high in omega-6 and low in omega-3, with the exception of flax and chia. Unlike oils, whole nuts and seeds are unrefined, are a great source of fiber, and still have vitamins and minerals intact. In the meantime, go easy on the oils.
Again, take a note of all the oils in this category. I will always rank a whole food over its liquid counterpart. Many oils rich in monounsaturated fats also have an unfavorable omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
With that being said – there are several health benefits from monounsaturated fats. Pick avocados before avocado oil. The less processed the food the higher the nutritional properties.
The main reason I rank on oils so much it the potential for oxidization. It’s difficult to know how long oils have been on the shelf, what the temperature conditions were, and how they were shipped and handled. It’s important to know the smoke point of oils and how to prevent them from becoming rancid.
Saturated fats are in a middle zone. Eat these in moderation and don’t make them your primary source of fats. Most saturated fats come from animal meat, dairy, and processed food products. The only plant-based source of saturated fats is palm and coconut oil. Remember, go easy on saturated fats.
foods containing saturated fat
cheese, ice cream, yogurt, milk, cream, butter, sausages, hot dogs, hamburger, fried chicken and poultry, bacon, pork, ribs, lamb, cookies, donuts, pastries, cake, croissants, french fries, pizza, fried food, palm and coconut oil
Many foods that contain trans fat are also a source of saturated fat. Trans fats don’t do your body any favors. In fact, they can have a negative impact. I understand it would be difficult to cut trans fats out completely, but try to seriously cut back on eating foods containing trans fats. Learn how to read labels and avoid purchasing food with trans fat. In the meantime cut back on the fried food and coffee creamer.
foods containing trans fats
margarine, vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, processed snack foods, fried food, pizza, frozen pies and cakes, baked goods, refrigerated dough products, coffee creamer, microwave popcorn, fried partially hydrogenated oils, meat and dairy in small amounts
TAKE AWAY ON FATS
Stop being afraid of butter and eat avocados on a regular basis.
Don’t put that dressing on the side, just check the ingredients first.
There is no need to fear fatty foods especially if they come from plants.
Always remember whole food fat sources are more nutritious than their processed counterparts.