Fats have been demonized in our culture. Most people either come to their defense by declaring “Fat is delicious! Let’s eat fried food every day and wash it down with ice cream,” or declare war against them and say “Disgusting! How could you even think of eating anything but celery and tofu!?”
Unless you have allergies or very specific diet requirements, neither mindset is healthy. Active people should not eat a low-fat diet and should not eat a high-fat diet – it makes your hormones go wonky. But their diet should include adequate amounts of healthy fats. Here is what’s true about fats.
- 25-30% of your daily calorie intake should come from fats.
- Fats are a concentrated source of long-lasting energy.
- Vitamins and minerals enter our cells through fats.
- Our bodies require fats to produce important hormones.
- Our organs and tissues use fats to send and receive messages from other cells.
- Fats form a barrier around our organs, acting as a physical buffer and a protector from harmful organisms and toxins.
- Fats stay in the stomach longer, making you feel fuller longer.
- Fats are calorie dense and should be eaten wisely.
The fats we eat are called triglycerides. A triglyceride is composed of three fatty acid chains bonded together with glycerol. Most naturally recurring fats (triglycerides) are broken into one of two groups: saturated and unsaturated.
Fatty acids that have double carbon bonds are unsaturated and fatty acids that have no double carbon bonds are saturated. (Both saturated and unsaturated fats can have single carbon bonds by saturated fats cannot have double carbon bonds.) When a towel is saturated with water, it cannot absorb one more drop. The same concept applies to saturated fats but they are “full” of hydrogen. Where fatty acids don’t bond with carbon they bond with hydrogen.
Unsaturated fats have double bonds between some of the carbon atoms, limiting the number of places where hydrogen atoms can bond to carbon atoms. Our bodies can’t breakdown double carbon bonds, so these fats pass through our system with less damage.
When it comes to recognizing fats and making good decisions about what fats to eat, here is all you really need to know.
- Are liquid at room temperature
- Are harder to breakdown, so pass through the body with less damage
- Are classified as either monounsaturated (one double-carbon bonds) or polyunsaturated (multiple double-carbon bonds)
- Mono-unsaturated fats should make up a large portion of the fat consumed by healthy, active people
- Polyunsaturated fats contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids
- Act more like trans fats when heated (uh oh!)
- Are solid at room temperature
- Are linked with heart disease and high cholesterol; are more likely to deposit in the arteries
- Are more easily recognized and processed by our bodies than trans fats
- Should consist of less than 10% of your total fat intake
- Are unsaturated fats that are infused with hydrogen, making them solid at room temperature (think hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils)
- Are extremely difficult for our bodies to metabolize and are linked with heart disease and high cholesterol
- Are included in most prepackaged or prepared foods (cakes and chips)
- Should be avoided
So what does this mean when you’re shopping and meal planning? Reference this chart to know which foods contain the fats you want to eat, which foods contain the fats you should limit, and which foods contain the fats you should avoid.
If you want a satisfying snack in the evening, ditch the packaged snacks and try some air-popped popcorn drizzled with olive oil instead. I promise you won’t be disappointed. (I may or may not eat this multiple times a week.) 🙂
FitTip: Many health problems are linked to eating too much fat, including obesity, insulin resistance, and heart disease. By limiting the amount of unhealthy fats you eat (saturated and trans fats) and increasing the amount of healthy fats you eat (unsaturated fats) and exercising regularly, you can take back control of your body. Not eating enough fats can lead to infertility. If you’re trying to lose fat, it is safe to restrict your fat intake by about 10% but don’t go any lower than that. If you have questions about eating the right kids of fats in the right quantities, please consult a registered dietitian or nutritionist.