I don’t think there is another more controversial food group than fats. We’re told they’re bad for us and we should limit them, then the next week we’re told they’re good for us and we should eat more of them. It’s so confusing! Should we or should we not be eating fats? What are the different types of fats anyway? As a vegetarian with a nutrition degree, it’s an understatement to say that I’ve researched the heck out of what I put in my body. I’ll give you a general outline of fats so you can make the decision for yourself!
Saturated v. Unsaturated Fat:
We’re used to hearing “healthy fat” and “bad fats”, but (of course) it’s not that simple. One way to categorize fats is by grouping them as saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fats tend to be from animal products, and are solid at room temperature due to the abundance of hydrogen molecules on the single bonded carbons. Think butter, cheese, and meat. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature because of the double bonding between the carbon atoms and are generally plant products. Depending on the carbon bond linkage, these fats could be mono unsaturated fats (MUFs) or polyunsaturated fats (PUFs). Think olive oil, avocado oil, and other oils found in nuts and seeds. It’s recommended to consume more unsaturated fats than saturated fats in order to lower your blood cholesterol and decrease heart disease risk. You’ve likely heard of omega-3s, a classification of polyunsaturated fat, that help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels while raising HDL (good) cholesterol levels. They’re just another testament to the importance of increasing the ratio between unsaturated and saturated fats in your diet.
Saturated fats get a bad rap, and in moderation they’re not terrible for you. Let’s take eggs for example. We know have a high level of saturated fat, but they also have vitamins D, E, and are a good source of protein. There’s a difference between eating a couple of eggs in a week versus five eggs in a day. When more animal protein is consumed, we also increase the amount of saturated fat we’re eating, so balance it out with options like walnuts as a snack instead of jerky or avocado toast instead of cheesy bread (so hard, I know!!). And what about trans fats? There are small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats in meats and dairy, but most of the trans fats out there are artificial partially hydrogenated oils. This means some of the double bonds in unsaturated fat molecules were purposefully broken to create a more stable fat. Trans fats trade their health for stability, and they’re thought to be even more debilitating to your health than saturated fats. Here’s where eating minimally processed foods is a big win, and it’s always good to read the labels of any packaged foods you consume.
How much fat should we consume? I was asked this often when I was working with my health coaching clients, and it’s a tricky one. Everyone’s needs are different, both in caloric intake and in macro ratio. Ideally, most people should consume between 20 to 35% of their calories through fat. In case you didn’t know, fat contains 9 calories per gram whereas protein and carbohydrates each only contain 4. Talking to a registered dietitian about what percentage is best for you is always a good idea, especially when so many diets like keto and Atkins greatly disrupt what’s considered normal for a macronutrient range. I personally don’t keep track of every gram of fat I consume, but recently I have been trying to be more proactive about incorporating more healthy fats and protein in my diet as a vegetarian. Additionally, being aware of which types of fat you’re eating can be just as pertinent as how much fat you’re consuming.
We’ve barely skimmed the surface of dietary fats, so if you have questions for me I’d love to answer them and chat! You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. ‘Til next time y’all!!