This isn’t the 1990s. Sticking to a ‘fat-free’ diet doesn’t make nutritional sense. Just as in our previous discussion on Carbohydrates, Fats are an important part of your diet. Recommended to make up 20-35% of your daily intake of macronutrients, fats play several vital roles in your body (i.e. appetite regulation, vital organ protection, thermoregulatory, backup source of energy after glycogen from carbohydrates). Focusing on the right fats is as important as making sure you are getting enough fatty acids in your diet.
For the purpose of this article, I will try to keep the information at a basic level as there is a lot of nuance in the discussion of fat intake.
WHAT ARE GOOD FATS
Generally speaking, the fats you want to maximize in your diet are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids. Foods with these two types of naturally occurring fatty acids have been shown to help lower your LDL (‘bad’) dietary cholesterol, thus lowering potential risk of heart disease in the future. Foods such as olive oil and fish contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats. Avocados and nuts are examples of foods that contain high levels of monounsaturated fats.
WHAT FATS SHOULD I MINIMIZE OR AVOID
Long-standing and scientifically backed data shows that high intake of saturated fats can significantly raise your LDL cholesterol levels, thus increasing your risk of heart disease. This is one of many reasons I wouldn’t recommend an ‘extreme’ diet, such as Keto or Paleo, which put an emphasis on fat intake, specifically animal proteins (that have high amounts of saturated fats).
Another key factor in determining if a fat is good for you is if the fats (mostly in the form of oils) have been hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated. Through the process of hydrogenation (heavy processing to stabilize or adjust the properties of a fat - not for the purpose of nutritional value or health), trans-fatty acids can occur - a by-product that has been proven in recent years to be very harmful to humans. So much so, that the FDA has banned the use of trans-fats in packaged food.
HOW MUCH FAT SHOULD I BE CONSUMING
As part of your diet, when we are talking about percentage intake, we are talking about how many of your calories come from a certain macronutrient. 1 gram of fat is more than double the calories (9) than a gram of protein or carbohydrate (4). This means you should choose your fats healthy, and wisely, as those grams of fats add up to your recommended daily intake quickly. This means, on a 2000 calorie diet the general range of grams of fats per day is between 45g-78g. While this seems like a lot, this can be achieved very quickly. Just one handful of almonds contains 16-20 grams of fat. Alternatively, a quarter pound hamburger made of ground beef is about 16g of fat, with 6 of those grams being saturated fat. The handful of almonds would be a much better choice in this scenario. This is why it is so important to be conscious of what fats you are eating, and in what quantities.
When reading nutrition panels, don’t let the word ‘fat’ scare you! Fats are crucial to making sure your body is functioning optimally. The key takeaway is to ensure you are focusing on the right kind of fats in moderate quantities to ensure you are getting the nutrients you need.