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What's the deal with fat?

Fat often gets a bad reputation, but it is actually a vital part of our diet to keep us healthy and nourished!

Healthy fats: nuts, avocado, salmon, olive oil

What is fat?

Fat is a macronutrient that often gets a bad reputation as being unhealthy. But, the truth is that healthy fats can actually improve your health along with making a more enjoyable eating experience. 

Fat is one of the three macronutrients that your body uses for energy, to create cell membranes, and to transport micronutrients throughout the body. When fat is in food it often gives it a smooth and creamy texture, think avocados or oils. It is this textural element that makes foods and meals with fat in them satisfying. 

Role of fat in the body

Healthy fat is necessary because it is important for various functions within your body. Fat helps to protect your organs, it is a major source of energy, lubricates the blood vessels, helps keep you warm, improves nervous system functioning, helps transport essential vitamins and minerals into your cells, and is necessary for blood clotting. These are just a few examples of how fat is utilized in your body. 

Different types of fat

Unsaturated

Unsaturated Fats are frequently referred to as the “good fats” because they are essential to the human diet, and they bring benefits for optimal nutrition and health. Unsaturated fats can improve blood cholesterol, decrease inflammation, and help stabilize blood glucose. Unsaturated fats are typically found in plant-based food sources like seeds, nuts, and oils. The American Heart Association recommends that in the average American diet, 8%-10% should be made up of unsaturated fats and up to 15% if you eliminate saturated and trans fats.

Omega-3’s are a type of polyunsaturated fat, which are essential fat. Meaning your body cannot make and you must eat them in food or take them as supplements. Omega 3’s are found in fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and leafy vegetables. 

There are two types of healthy unsaturated fats:

Monounsaturated Fat
  • Olive and canola oils
  • Avocados
  • Nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
  • Seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds

     

Polyunsaturated Fat
  • Sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Fish
  • Canola oil

 

Saturated Fatssaturated fats

Saturated Fats are fats that are solid at room temperature and they often coexist with unsaturated fats and are not always “unhealthy”. Saturated fats are most readily found in animal bi-products like red meat, milk, cream, cheese, sausage, bacon, and butter. Eating unsaturated fats increases cholesterol levels in your blood, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. 

 

 

 

 

Ttransfatsrans Fats

Trans Fats are actually trans fatty acids and are made when vegetable oils are heated in the presence of hydrogen. This is why they are also referred to as hydrogenated oils. This process changes the chemical structure of the fat to prevent it from going bad and makes it more stable at room temperature and can be reheated multiple times. Trans fats are used in processed foods and often found in restaurants and bakeries to preserve food. 

 

 

Trans Fats and Health Risks

  • Raise bad LDL and lower good HDL
  • Create inflammation - leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions
  • Contribute to insulin resistance
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“Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.”

Attribution
Michael Pollan

Why does fat get a bad reputation?

Historically the different types of fat were all seen as bad and the primary cause of obesity and chronic disease. It has been found though that a healthy diet includes healthy fat. Too much fat, specifically too much saturated and trans fat, can raise cholesterol levels. What has been found though is that healthy unsaturated fat increases HDL (good cholesterol) and can decrease LDL (bad cholesterol). This is beneficial to achieving and maintaining your health. 

“Low-fat” diets were thought to make people healthier, lose weight, and decrease their risk of disease, but this can be misleading. If a food is labeled “low-fat” make sure that the fat that has been removed is not replaced with sugar or artificial chemicals. 

 

How to include fat into your diet

Fat should be included to add flavor, texture, and satiety but rarely should be the main ingredient. Here are a few ideas: 

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    Breakfast

     

    • ¼ an avocado mixed with eggs
    • 1 tablespoon of almond butter to your morning smoothie
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    Lunch

     

    • 1-2 tablespoons of walnuts to your salad at lunch
    • ¼ an avocado mixed with tuna fish to make a sandwich or lettuce wrap
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    Dinner

     

    • Add a couple of tablespoons of greek yogurt to marinara sauce instead of adding cheese
    • Saute broccoli and cabbage in olive oil to improve texture and flavor
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    Snacks

     

    • Sliced cheese with apple
    • ¼ cup mixed nuts
    • 1 tablespoon of favorite nut butter with celery
    • Hummus with carrots or cucumbers

Learn more about what the American Heart Association recommends when it comes to fat!

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