The debate over fat has been going on for years. There was a point where everyone praised a low-fat diet and now we have people eating coconut oil by the spoonful. So what does fat really do and what types should we be eating?
Fat is the most calorically dense energy source, yielding 9 calories per gram when digested. This is almost double the amount obtained from protein and carbohydrates (both 4 calories/g). Fat not only provides calories, but also serves as a carrier for fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins are essential to proper bodily functions, thus making fat essential as well. Fat is also necessary for structure and function of cells and hormones, providing insulation, sending signals and protecting vital organs.
Even though fat is essential, that doesn’t mean that we need tons in the diet. It is still calorically dense and we must choose the right types of fat to benefit the body. The best way to incorporate good fats in the diet is to look for minimally processed foods. The best sources of healthy fats are often from plant based sources. Plant oils, nuts, seeds and fish contain excellent fats that benefit the body and help you stay full for longer.
Lean proteins, cheese, butter and coconut/palm oil also contain fat that can be beneficial in the body in smaller amounts. These are examples of saturated fats. While they are still helpful to the body, large amounts of saturated fats can lead to increased cholesterol levels. In the right amounts, these fats can be a part of a healthy diet.
Fats to avoid are margarines or shortenings, fried foods, fast food and baked goods as they often contain trans fats. Trans fats do not have any benefit in the body and do more harm than good.
Overall: Consume moderate portions of plant oils, nuts seeds and fish; consume small portions of lean proteins, butter, cheese and coconut/palm oil; AVOID trans fats found in fried foods, shortenings, fast food and baked goods. Eating a well-balanced, minimally processed diet you will take in good sources of fat that will help your body function to its potential.
Katherine Horner, RD, LD, NASM-CPT, CES
St. Francis Surgical Weight Loss Dietitian & Exercise Specialist
Photo courtesy of health.com