There are three major macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. In July, I wrote about protein and in August, I wrote about carbohydrates. (If you missed those articles, you can find them in the Blog section of my website). This month, I conclude that series with information on the importance of fats!
Maybe not to the degree in which carbs have come to develop a negative connotation, but fats unfortunately have earned themselves a negative reputation as well. This is evident in the numerous products that have been developed and marketed for being “fat free” and/or “low fat”. A point for thought and consideration…how many people do you see eating “fat free” or “low fat” options actually have a healthy body composition? The engineering that contributed to them that reduced their fat content likely contributes to you eating more of them.
Fats are essential for many functions within our bodies. They can be utilized as a source of energy, they are essential for appropriate hormone function, they are important for the structure of our cells, and they support our brain and nervous system function. In addition, certain vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are fat-soluble meaning that they can’t dissolve in water. Consuming fats also provides us with fats that our body cannot produce on its own such as Omega-6 and Omega-3.
Similar to carbs and proteins, not all fats are created equal. Please refer to a Precision Nutrition infographic that I have shared on my website (under Blogs & Resources) that provides guidance on fats we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, or “eating less” of. We can consume fats from a variety of sources including plants, dairy, meat, fish, and oils. I always encourage people to strive to get a majority of their nutrition via real food. However, for those who are challenged with consuming enough to support their health, there are some fat supplements available such as fish oil, krill oil, or algae oil.
People may often fear consuming fat with the concern it will raise their cholesterol. It is not the presence of a fat source that causes the negative health consequences, but more its presence in highly processed and refined foods that are overconsumed and therefore lead to obesity and increased inflammation in the body that cause the negative health outcomes. Please note, cholesterol is vital for many functions within our body. It is likely I could write a whole other lengthy article on the myths commonly associated with cholesterol. The point I will reinforce is not to be hesitant about consuming healthy sources of fats.
Just as we benefit from varying our sources of proteins and carbs to help ensure we are providing our body with adequate nutrition, it is just as important to consume fat from a variety of sources as well. Fats come in various forms such as saturated, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and trans fats.
It is important to balance out our sources of fats, similar to how we should balance out our carb and protein sources. For example, we should strive to balance out our saturated fat intake with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties. We should strive for more Omega-3s than Omega-6’s. The ways we accomplish that are eating a varied diet with limited processed and refined foods.
Generally speaking, the fats we want to consume the least of are trans fats. These are your full or partially hydrogenated fats. These are the ones that have negative impacts on our cholesterol and overall health. These are commonly found in fried foods like doughnuts and other baked goods (cakes, pies, cookies), crackers and some margarines and other spreads. Does this mean you should never enjoy a piece of cake? No. However, it should make up a very small part of your nutritional intake (i.e. “eat less”).
OK…so we know fats are good for us, but how much to eat? There is no one answer that applies to everyone. Some people do well with diets higher in fat, whereas others may do better with less. As I mentioned in the previous article, there is no one right diet or nutritional approach that works best. The best nutritional approach for you is the one you can be most consistent with and supports your overall health and personal goals.
A way to informally measure your fat intake at a meal is to base it off the size of your thumb. Many people benefit from a 1-2 thumb-size portions of fats in their meals. There can be too much of a good thing and it is important to remember that fats are more calorie dense. Fats have about 9 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein each have 4 calories per gram. Therefore, measuring can be helpful to ensure you are not overeating in excess of your body’s requirements.
Some key takeaways from this series: strive to eat foods from the “eat more” categories, strive to eat a variety, and balance your intake with your activity level.
Author: Dr. Candice Dutko
This article was featured by Panorama in their September issue.