So I’ve already explained what carbohydrates are and do for the body. Up Next: fat! This poor macronutrient has been through the ringer. It was all over the “do not eat list” and now people are trying to eat as much as possible! Do you really know what fat is? Or how it is stored in the body? No?? Well read on!
Fat is higher in energy than any other food. It is 9 calories per gram. This means than for every 1 gram of fat (say like butter) there are 9 calories in it. Both protein and carbohydrates have 4 calories per gram. So you could eat the same amount of fat and protein, but you would be eating more calories from the fat. This is why it is suggested that you shouldn’t eat too much fat, because all the calories in such a small amount of food adds up fast.
Fat has many different purposes in the body. It is what your body uses for energy when you exercise for long periods of time (after it runs out of carbs). Fat plays a role in keeping your skin and hair healthy. They also help store the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. So if you don’t have enough fat in your diet, then you can digest and absorb them! Fat can also help you stay full becuase it slows down the digestion process. This is why you may feel extra full after eating a very high-fat meal. There are also many different kinds of fats that have even more specific roles (that I will get into in a moment). But one important piece of information to know is that these different types of fat don’t really exist on their own in food. Multiple types of fat all exist in food. So it is difficult to just eat the “healthy fat” when eating a higher fat diet. But I’ll get into what the “healthy fat” is here!
I’ll start with the most unhealthy- trans fat. This is a man-made fat that raises your “bad cholesterol” leading to stoke and heart disease. Trans fats are in a lot of very unhealthy foods- crackers, microwave popcorn, fast food, frozen meals, frostings. Many stores are completely removing trans fats from their foods, so you may not even find anything at your grocery store. But if you’re curious you can always check the nutrition facts label on the back of the food to see if there’s any trans fat in there. Fresh food doesn’t contain trans fat so don’t worry about that!
Saturated fats are the “unhealthy fats” because they contribute to heart disease risk. However, this is controversial. Some research is finding that it may not just be the fat that causes heart disease, but until stronger evidence comes out try to limit your saturated fat intake. This fat is solid at room temperature- butter, lard, coconut oil, etc. Saturated fat is also found in beef and dairy. Fish have less saturated fats than other meats, so this is why they are often considered a “healthier meat.” Try to limit saturated fat to <6% of your total calories to protect your heart.
Another “unhealthy fat” is cholesterol. This is considered a “fat like” substance. Your body already makes all the cholesterol it needs, so you actually don’t even need to eat this for your body to function. So just try to eat as little as possible because research suggests that eating a lot of cholesterol also can contribute to stroke and heart disease. Cholesterol is found in all animal products- meat, dairy, butter, fish, poultry. Fruits and vegetables have no cholesterol!
Now on to the the healthy fats- Unsaturated fats! These fats are like super hero’s and actually help to lower your cholesterol and keep your healthier. There are 2 different types: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Monounsaturated are so so good for you! Eat as much as you can!! these fats have been found to decrease inflammation. Sources are olive oil, canola oil, avocados, cashews, almonds.
Polyunsaturated fats are also healthy. There are 2 kinds- Omega 3 and Omega 6 (O3 and O6). O6 fats have been researched in athletes to help promote inflammation to force their muscles to grow. These have also been tested as a treatment for depression. Sources of these foods are safflower oil, soybean oil, and Brazil nuts. These are essential fats which means your body doesn’t produce them, so you have to eat them to get them in your body! Lastly O3 fats are anti-inflammatory. So eat these if you want that benefit! Sources areflaxseeds, salmon, mackerel, sardines, walnuts, and canola oil.
Just as a take-away point, I do want to reiterate that fats do have a ton of calories. This is why avocados and nuts are so high in calories. If you are trying to lose weight, maybe don’t eat a lot of fat all the time and focus more on protein. But fat is definitely a part of a healthy diet.
...So what about a high-fat low-carb diet? *sigh* I don’t know how to entirely address that here, and I do want to do a separate blog post, but I’m just trying to get up the courage because I don’t want to offend anyone. But if you’re only reading this then I feel like I should address it, just for a second. It is true that once you run out of carb stores, your body will start to burn fat. Now this is not the preferred energy source for the body, but it will work. If you are trying to do a high-fat diet, just try to stick to the healthy fats I’ve already listed and make sure you’re getting in enough vegetables and protein. Fat doesn’t contain all the vitamins and minerals you need- those mostly come from carb sources. More explanation to come in a future blog post...but for now just know that fat is good! Just stick to the healthy kinds!!