Understanding dietary fats and their role in our diet can be intimidating. It can seem that one day we’re told that fats are good for you, then the following day, they aren’t. What are the real facts about fats in your diet?
To start, fats are simply one nutrient that provides calories in our daily lives.
Exactly one gram of fat provides nine calories which is more than carbohydrates and protein combined, which only provide 4 calories per gram each!
They play several roles in our bodies such as absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and provide energy, and cushion for our vital organs.
However, over the years fats have been highly criticized as a major contributor to heart disease and obesity.
To avoid labeling all fats as “bad” we need to evaluate the different types of dietary fats to determine which have healthy benefits and which might not.
Types of fats
Let’s examine the different types of dietary fats. Four main categories of fats exist. This includes saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.
These are most commonly found in animal products such as dairy, eggs and meat but have two plant-based versions which include palm and coconut oil.
Trans fats are hydrogenated unsaturated fats that are found in processed products due to the excellent shelf-life.
These two fats contribute to higher levels of LDL, the bad cholesterol, and increase your risk for cardiovascular conditions.
These two types of fat should be limited in order to promote a healthy diet.
Mono- and poly- fats
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are typically plant-based. These “good” fats can be found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados and fish.
Unsaturated fats provide a wealth of health benefits including: increasing levels of HDL, the protective cholesterol; decreasing risk of coronary artery disease; boost your immune system, and can provide anti-inflammatory properties.
After looking at the facts, fats in general are not the enemy. The key is finding balance in the amount we consume and the types of fats we choose to make a big impact on our health.
Small amounts of nuts, seeds, and plant-based oils are a great way to incorporate healthy fats while staying within your calorie budget.
For example, adding ¼ c of nuts to a snack with a piece of fresh fruit can help maintain energy while managing your appetite between meals.
Try using reduced fat dairy to minimize intake of saturated fats and look for “partially hydrogenated oil” in the product ingredients to avoid trans fats.