So you’ve learned about carbs and proteins, now it’s time to focus on fats. One of the most important things that fats can do is provide us with fullness and satiety. Plus they taste great! Read on to learn about the right types of healthy fats to include in your diet.
Historically, fats in the diet have been blamed as a leading cause of heart disease and weight gain. Current science has taught us that this simply is not true. Fats play a critical role in keeping us healthy. You read that correctly – fats keep us healthy. And by including the right type of fats in your diet, you will not only improve your heart health, you may even lose a few pounds while you are at it.
Fats refer to a type of nutrient known as lipids. Lipids include three main groups: triglycerides, phospholipids, and sterols. Triglycerides are by far the most common type of fat both in our diet and in the body. A key characteristic of lipids is that they are insoluble in water. Fats and oils are two main types of lipids. Fats are lipids that are solid at room temperature. Oils are lipids that are liquid at room temperature.
Fats play a key role in the body. Some of the key functions of fats include:
- Cushioning joints
- Protecting bones, body organs and nerves from injury
- Digestion and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
- Slowing gastric emptying and supporting digestion
- Providing satiety at meals
- Supplying us with energy
- Preserving body heat and providing insulation to help us stay warm
In our diet, fats can fall into three broad categories: Trans fats, saturated fats, and unsaturated fats.
Most trans fats do not occur naturally in nature. The majority were created by the food industry to promote the shelf life of products. Trans fats work by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, which causes the oil to become solid at room temperature. Trans fats are by far the worst type of fat you can consume. They are most commonly found in foods such as stick margarine, vegetable shortening, processed foods such as store bought cookies, snack cakes, potato chips, and fried foods at fast-food restaurants. Research has shown that trans fats are a leading cause of elevated cholesterol and heart disease. They raise triglycerides and LDL, lower HDL, increase inflammation and promote insulin resistance.
Saturated fats have been under debate for quite some time. While at one point saturated fats were also thought to be a contributor to heart disease, more current research has shown that the right types of saturated fats can actually be cardio-protective. Saturated fats are found in foods such as butter, coconut oil, marbled red meat, lard, ghee, full fat dairy, fried foods, dessert foods. Obviously, you want to avoid the last two. But the saturated fast found in foods like grass fed butter and coconut oil are the right types of saturated fats. Why? There is some evidence to support that certain types of saturated fats can actually increase the particle size of LDL, making it less harmful then LDL particles that are small and dense. Also, when fats are grass fed (such as butter and red meat) you are also getting a source of Omega-3 fatty acids which can help to raise HDL, your good cholesterol.
Speaking of Omega-3’s, unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and Omega-3 fatty acids. These can be found in foods such as a fatty fish like salmon and tuna, nuts, seeds, flax, chia, avocados, avocado oil, olives, and olive oil. These are the BEST types of fats to choose. They raise HDL, lower inflammation, play a key role in maintaining healthy vision, reduce risk of cognitive decline, and support a healthy pregnancy.
Why does it matter?
The right type of fats are not only health promoting, but they are also satiating. Like protein, fats in the diet digest slower, keeping you fuller longer. Fats will not impact your blood sugar, so by including them you will be able to keep your blood sugar balanced, sustain your energy levels, curb cravings, and overall consume less food.
Not all fats are bad! Strive to incorporate mostly unsaturated fats in your diet. I typically recommend about 85-90% of your fats should come from unsaturated sources. Use high quality saturated fats about 10-15% of the time. Choose ones like grass fed beef, grass fed butter, ghee, or coconut oil. These types of saturated fats have a better nutritional profile and in the case of grass fed products, contain omega-3 fatty acids. Fats take a longer time to digest, so they provide fullness and satiety. Many unsaturated fats are found to be heart protective.
If you finish a meal and still feel hungry, you may not be getting enough healthy fat. Fats provide us with satiety, meaning that we will feel fuller and more satisfied then if we exclude them from our diet. Knowing how to properly balance your fats in order to meet your needs will set you on the right path to achieving your goals.
If you’ve made it this far, I’m proud of you! It is my hope that these posts have provided you with some clarity around the right types of macros to eat and WHY.
Want to know your specific macronutrient needs? Contact me here for a nutrition counseling session.
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Murray, M. T., & Pizzorno, J. (2012). The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, 3rd Edition. New York, New York: Atria paperback.
Rolfes, S. R., Pinna, K., & Whitney, E. (2009). Understanding normal and clinical nutrition, eighth edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.