Updated: Jan 16, 2019
How much fat do we need each day? Lots of myths exist when it comes to eating fat. Dietary fat is needed for energy, vitamin and mineral absorption, in addition to being an essential nutrient needed from brain, nerves, development, hair, skin and much more. Not to mention, fat gives food flavor and texture and plays an important part in a balanced diet.
When hearing blanket statements, look to the science:
There are some fats the research shows we should be avoiding-- known as trans fats. These can be found in fast food, snack foods like chips and crackers, dessert foods like cookies, cakes, and pies, some stick margarine, or shelf stable coffee creamers. Trans fats are often hidden and we aren't aware they are added to some foods, so it is important to check the food label. Why should we be avoiding them? They are linked to heart disease due to their effect on an increase in LDL cholesterol, decrease in HDL cholesterol, and increase in triglycerides.
Then there are some fats to be mindful of-- saturated fats. These are found in animal products, such as cheese, cream, butter, meats including fatty beef, lamb, pork, and poultry skin, as well as tropical oils like coconut or palm oil. The American Heart Association suggests limiting these fats due to their association with an increase in LDL levels. However, remember that fat is just one piece of the puzzle, and these foods have other nutritional properties. Therefore, keeping the whole picture in mind to make mindful and conscious decisions is conducive to a healthy lifestyle.
And there are some that the research has shown we should incorporate regularly- unsaturated fats. These include nuts. seeds, avocado, vegetable oils, olives. A type of unsaturated fat making headlines is Omega-3 fatty acids, also encouraged to eat regularly by consuming fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and herring, certain seeds like flax, chia, and sunflower, as well as walnuts. These fats all have been shown to have protective effects again cardiovascular disease and should make up the majority of your fat intake. It is recommended that fat make up 20% to 35% of daily calories consumed by the average healthy adult. For example, if an individual eats 2,000 calories a day, around 500 of those calories are suggested to come from fat-- that's 55 grams. Is that more than you thought? Several people have expressed worry to me about eating a serving of peanut butter because it has 16 grams of fat. It's also important to note that the foods mentioned all have mixes of different types of fatty acids, but they contain some in higher amounts than others.
The bottom line? No need to fear fat. As previously mentioned, fat is a macro-nutrient that our bodies need for several reasons. It’s all about how you balance & incorporate different types into your diet.