When you say that you eat fat, most of you, myself included, think about hamburgers, butter, cake, French fries or other foods that are considered to be unhealthy or not very good for you to eat. It’s time to change that view you have on fat!
Fat can, and is, good for you. In fact, it is an essential part of your diet and it is needed to keep vital functions in your body running. It is also a major source of energy and helps the body to absorb some vitamins and minerals. So there is really no need for you to look for the low-fat options if you have calculated your macronutrient intake you can easily go for the full-fat option.
If you are unsure how to calculate your daily nutrient intake, there are plenty of calculators on the Internet, such as this one.
The bad reputation that fat has gotten is possibly due to the fact that the body stores excess energy (fat is very high in calories, hence a lots of energy) as body-fat and, in a world where looks and your perceived persona is somewhat measured by your amount of body-fat, this played right into the hands of the low-fat products manufactures.
In fact, people did not get healthier by switching to low-fat options; this is most likely a result of people cutting all fats, including the good ones.
If you are uncertain about what fats to eat or if you wonder what the difference between fat and fatty acid is, then this post will most likely explain that to you. When you have finished reading it you will be more aware of good fats and bad fats and how you can incorporate the good fats into your diet.
At first, you might not like the idea of eating fat or incorporate fat into your diet. If you continue reading I will assure you that by the time you are at the end of this post your doubts will be gone.
So what is fat, you ask? Well without diving deep into the chemistry pond, fat is one out three macronutrients. The other two being carbohydrates and protein.
Fat is a molecule consisting of one, two or three fatty acid (more on those later) chains that are bound together by glycerol. Depending on the number of fatty acid chains the molecules are called monoglycerides, diglycerides, and triglycerides. The one that you find in food is triglyceride. If you want to know more about the chemistry of fat you can have a read about fat on Wikipedia.
Why you should eat fat
As mentioned earlier fat is a major source of energy for your body, but it also helps out to insulate body tissue, creating a cushion like layer around your internal organs so that they feel comfortable, and transport vitamins that are fat soluble in the blood.
So how much fat should you eat? This depends on your goals, and what you want to achieve with your diet and/or training. As a rule of thumb, a normal person on a 2000 calorie diet should consume somewhere between 400 and 700 calories of fat per day. Fat contains about nine calories per gram so in this case, the daily intake should be around 44 to 78 grams. But again, you should try to find the right amount for your body.
Different people burn a different amount of calories, it can be because they work out, or maybe they have very active jobs. Either way, you need to find the right balance for you and don’t stare too much at this rule of thumb (I am well aware of the paradox of bringing up a rule of thumb and then tell you to find your own, but I think it will point you out in the right direction).
When it comes to fat, you can say that you have three different types; Good fats, In-between fats, and bad fats. You should always aim for the good fats (obviously) and avoid the bad fats altogether. If you continue reading I will explain to you why. Let’s start out with the bad fats and why you should avoid them.
The worst type of dietary fat there is out there is known as trans-fat. Food makers added it to their product to prolong the shelf life of the product. From the beginning, trans-fat was a by-product from a process known as hydrogenation, in which healthy oils are turned into solids to prevent them from getting old and rancid. In this process, you create a chemical reaction between hydrogen and the vegetable oil using a heavy metal (mainly nickel, palladium or platinum).
If you eat foods containing trans-fat you will increase bad cholesterol (LDL) and reduce the more beneficial cholesterol (HDL) in your bloodstream. Trans-fats are also linked to heart disease; stroke and they will make you more insulin resistant which will increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Even very small amounts of trans-fats can have very bad consequences on your health, so you do best in avoiding it all together. Trans-fats have no health benefits at all and luckily these bad fats are fast becoming rarer and rarer in the food shops.
This here is what is referred to as saturated fats. Saturated fats are commonly found in animal fat products such as cream, cheese, butter, and meat. Saturated fats can also be found in vegetable products such as coconut oil and palm kernel oil. High consumption of saturated fats can put you at risk of raising the bad cholesterol (LDL), which can lead to heart disease.
So is bad for you? Unlike trans-fats, that really should be avoided at all costs, saturated fats are ”ok” to a certain extent. You should be aware that high consumption most likely will have bad implications for your health, but if you keep it on a low level you should be all right.
So after a bit of negative reading and “stay-away”-advice here are the positives! The good fats! These fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Good fats are different from the saturated fats by both chemical structure (they have fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to the carbon chain), and consistency. Good fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. It is common to divide these good fats into two more broad groups; monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, most nuts and high oleic oils such as sunflower and safflower. In the 1960’s a study named Seven Countries Study came to the conclusion that people living in Mediterranean countries had low rates of heart disease, despite the fact that they were on a high-fat diet. The difference for these countries compared to countries with high heart disease rate was that the main fat source in the Mediterranean countries came from olive oil, which almost only consists of monounsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. This means that they are required for normal functions in the body, but the body cannot produce them itself. So the only way you can get them is by food or supplements. Some of these functions are, building cell membranes, covering nerves, prevent blood clotting, and muscle movement.
Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are the two main types of polyunsaturated fats. Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent and can even treat some heart disease and stroke. It is also known to lower blood pressure and raising good cholesterol (HDL) levels.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.
Omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked with good protection for heart disease.
Good sources of omega-6 fatty acids are safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, walnut oil, and corn oil.
What happens if you eat too much fat?
I have already mentioned the negative sides of eating certain types of fat, but just because you eat good fats you shouldn’t overconsume. Even though there are no immediate disadvantages of eating a lot of healthy fats you will probably gain weight in the long run.
Fats, regardless of which, is rich in calories and if you don’t burn off the excess calories (energy) you consume your body will store it. As a result, you will gain weight and overweight can lead to different types of diseases and affect your general health.
What happens if you eat too little fat?
We know now that fat helps the body to absorb and utilize different vitamins that are fat-soluble. These vitamins include vitamin A, D, E and K. If you consume too little fat your body will have a harder time absorbing and take these vitamins into account, leading you on a path to vitamin deficiencies. For instance, if you develop a deficiency of vitamin A, you might experience dry skin, slow bone growth, and lesser night blindness.
Good and healthy vegan fat sources
If you are unsure what foods are good and healthy vegan fat sources I have made this non-exhausted list for your convenience.
Avocados are packed with good fats! One medium avocado has around 23 grams of, primarily, monounsaturated fats. Try replacing the butter on your sandwich with smashed avocado instead to switch to better and healthier fat sources.
Walnuts are one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Try to eat a handful every other day.
Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats, and should be in every kitchen cabinet as the go-to oil when cooking.
Edamame contains a lot of both polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. They are also a great vegan protein source.
Flaxseed oil is a good source of fat and fatty acids. Also rich in alpha-linolenic acid which is said to decrease inflammation.
If you have read this far you have seen the term fatty acids a couple of time. In this section, I will try to explain what they are and what they do.
Similar to protein, which is built of amino acids, normal fat consists of three fatty acids that are bonded together with glycerol, forming a fat molecule.
There are several different fatty acids out of which two are said to be essential. As I have already mentioned, essential in this case means that these fatty acids cannot be produced by the body itself, but needs to be eaten via food or supplements. The two fatty acids that are known to be essential are alpha-linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid) and linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid).
When first discovered, in the 1920’s, these fatty acids were referred to as vitamin F. But since they were better classified as fats the definition was changed a couple of years later.
You should not be afraid to eat fat, you should be aware of what type of fat you are eating though, and don’t over consume it. In whichever way you choose to spread your macronutrients, I would suggest not to exclude fats from your diet. Eaten correctly, fats can help you achieve your goals as well as helping your body to absorb nutrients, utilize vitamins and hamper inflammation.
If you are on a vegan diet, you are already on your way of removing the bad fats and the in-between fats. When you buy products, be sure to read the ingredient list carefully, some products still contain trans-fat, and as I wrote earlier, you don’t want that. You really don’t.
I really hope this post has helped you and answered some of our questions about fats and fatty acids, and how we should and could eat them. If you have further questions you can write them in the comments below, or contact me here.