Making Smart Selections with Fats

by Melissa Chichester

Let’s talk about fats! We now know that there are some fats that nourish the body and contain beneficial nutrients that contribute to wellness; however, it is still important to avoid taking in too many fats. It can be confusing to distinguish what fats are good and what fats are bad when making the best dietary decisions while living a healthy lifestyle. Let’s take a look at the different fats and how they can influence the body, and what foods you can find them in.

What is fat?

Nobody likes the “f” word, but it is important to talk about what fat actually means in order to understand how it helps the body. In a nutshell, fat is a nutrient that provides energy and helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like A, D, E, and K. The American Heart Association recommends limiting total calories from fat to 25-35%. That’s about 65 grams of fat or less a day if you eat 2,000 calories a day.

Saturated fat

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are mostly found in animal foods, including meat and dairy products, but a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats. Too much saturated may raise your “bad” cholesterol. Plant-based sources of saturated fats that are found in cosmetic products, including coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter are useful for hydrating skin when applied topically. Coconut oil is well known for containing MCT (medium-chain triglycerides) oil, a premium source of energy that is more easily digested than other fats.

Monounsaturated fat

Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats were discovered to provide some health benefits during the 1960s when the Seven Countries Study revealed people in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean region enjoyed a low rate of heart disease despite a high-fat diet. The main fat in their diet was not saturated fat, but olive oil which contains mainly monounsaturated fats. This finding resulted in a great deal of interest in the “Mediterranean diet”, a style of eating regarded as a healthful choice. Sources of monounsaturated fats include sunflower seeds and oils, avocados, safflower oil, and of course, olive oil. Macadamia nuts have more monounsaturated fats than any other nut.

Polyunsaturated fat

Some polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them, so you must get them from food.

There are two main types of essential polyunsaturated fats: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid and linoleic acid (LA), an omega-6 fatty acid.

Both types offer health benefits, but the typical American diet is low in omega-3 Fatty acids. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids that provide ALA include flaxseeds, while salmon, albacore tuna, and walnuts, mackerel, and sardines provide the more commonly known forms, EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are important for cellular, heart, and metabolic health.*

Like anything in life, it is important to recognize that while fat can be beneficial, too much fat can have negative health impacts. If you are concerned about the amount of fats you consume, it is helpful to discuss it with your physician.