Fat has been demonized and made out to be the bad guy in the diet industry for far too long. Dietary fat does NOT equal fat gain on your body. Fat definitely has it’s place in a healthy diet. However, it’s important to make sure we’re eating healthy fats and the right amounts of fats. Keep reading to learn why fat is important, the best fats and oils for your health, and fats to avoid.
Switching your fats is the 9th step in my 10 Healthy Living Baby Steps. When you switch the fats and oils that you’re cooking with and eating, it can make a HUGE impact on your health!
Best Fats and Oils for Your Health
Why Is Fat Important?
Low fat diets can be detrimental to your health. Fats are not a “bad” food that should be avoided. Fat is a macronutrient for a reason. Our body needs a balance of fats, carbohydrates, and protein to fuel it.
It’s important to include fat as part of your healthy, balanced diet. Can eating too much fat cause you to gain fat? Sure! But so can eating too much carbs and protein. Eating too much of anything can lead to weight gain (and so can eating not enough!). But those macronutrient, carbohydrates, and protein are fuel sources for our body. Without adequate amounts of ANY of those macros can cause health problems.
Here are some reasons why fat is so important:
Fat allows your body to absorb the fat soluble vitamins – A, D, E, and K. These vitamins are dissolved in fat, not water (like our blood). We need fat to dissolve them. Then our body can absorb those vitamins and use them to perform several needed functions.
What’s great is that many foods that are high in these vitamins, like salmon, sardines, pork, beef liver, eggs, milk, cheese, almonds, and avocados are ALSO high in the fat that’s needed for their absorption. Just goes to show how wonderfully God made His creation.
Cholesterol, or a type of fat we get from animals, is needed to make hormones. Sex hormones like estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone, as well as other hormones like cortisol and Vitamin D (yeah, that’s actually a hormone!) depend on cholesterol. If you’re not getting enough cholesterol in your diet you’re probably going to experience hormone imbalance.
If that’s the case, you might experience problems like:
- weight gain
- weight loss
- period problems
- dry or oily skin
- digestive problems
- changes in body hair
- and more.
Your brain is made up mostly of fat – about 60%. So it’s vital to optimal brain function that you are getting fat in your diet.
You need the right dietary fats for good mood, alertness, memory, and cognition.
Not only are hormones and the brain made from fat, but EVERY cell in your body is made partly of fat. Fatty acids and cholesterol, along with protein, make up cell membranes. So without fat in our diet, our cells would die.
Our body converts protein, carbohydrates, and fat to energy through metabolism. It’s preferred source of energy while we’re working out, working, and moving around is carbs. But while we’re resting, our body prefers to use fat as energy.
Blood Sugar Balance
Eating carbs and sugar alone causes a spike in your blood sugar. But adding fat and protein to the carbs slows the release of sugar into your blood.
High blood sugar can cause problems like:
- weight gain
- increased thirst
- dry mouth
- increased urination
- trouble concentrating
So, to keep your blood sugar balanced, it’s so importance to keep your macronutrients in balance.
Types of Fat
So, we know fat is a good thing that your body NEEDS – but it needs the right types in the right amounts.
There are four main types of fat. All fats are made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. But the structure of each one is a little different.
- Saturated Fat – carbon atoms are connected to each other in SINGLE bonds and each one is SATURATED with hydrogen atoms.
- Monounsaturated Fat – the fat molecule has one DOUBLE bond that is not saturated with hydrogen atoms
- Polyunsaturated Fat – the fat molecule has two ore more double bonds
- Trans Fat – mono or polyunsaturated fats that have been chemically altered and “hydrogenized,” meaning hydrogen atoms have been added to the double bonds, making it look more like saturated fat.
One of these is better than the others? Which one do you think it is?
Best Fats and Oils to Choose
Okay, what I’m about to say is against what we’ve been told in the diet world for way too long. Are you ready?!?!
Saturated fats are actually the most healthy fats you can choose and they do NOT lead to heart disease. That’s right. Saturated Fats are more stable than the other fats. That means they stay solid at room temperature and they don’t oxidize, or go rancid, as easily as the other types of fat.
Oxidation is when fats and oils are exposed to heat, air, and light. They break down and create free radicals. Those guys are not good!
Free radicals are responsible for:
- DNA damage
- autoimmune disease
- digestive issues
- skin aging
- and more.
Saturated fats are a much better option than others because they protect against oxidative (free radical) damage, boost metabolism, and for all the other reasons I listed above.
It’s especially important to use saturated fats when you’re cooking. Saturated fats are found mainly in animal foods. Here are some great fats, oils, and foods that are made up mostly of saturated fat:
- coconut oil
- lard (pork fat)
- tallow (beef fat)
- whole milk
Fats to Use in Moderation
Like I said earlier, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are less stable and go rancid more easily. So these should be used sparingly and only when not heating them.
There are two types of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) – Omega 3 and Omega 6. These are called “essential” fatty acids because our body can’t make them. We need them from our diet. But we don’t need an over abundance.
Bears and squirrels eat a lot of nuts and seeds (which are high in PUFAs) before they hibernate, and they actually slow down your metabolism. Eating a diet high in PUFAs can slow down your metabolism as well.
A few things when it comes to Omega 3s and 6s.
- Use them the right way. These fats are more unstable and easily oxidize. So keep them away from oxygen, heat, and sunlight. Store them in dark containers in a cabinet or the refrigerator, tightly closed. Instead of cooking with olive oil, I use it as a dressing on salad or drizzled over roasted veggies AFTER they’ve cooked.
- Keep them in balance. The majority of us consume tons of Omega 6 and not enough Omega 3. This imbalance leads to inflammation. So focus on getting in some Omega 3s. Getting in enough Omega 6s is not something we need to be super concerned about.
- Limit them. We don’t need tons – not even Omega 3s. I DO NOT recommend downing tons of fish oil supplements to get enough Omega 3s. Just eat a few servings of the foods below and you’ll be good.
- Choose whole food, less processed ones. Many Omega 3 and 6 oils are highly processed and should be avoided (more on that in a bit!).
- Choose cold pressed oils. Cold pressed avocado oil and olive oil are not damaged, less processed, and more healthy than heat extracted oils.
Here are some good sources of Omega 3s and 6s that are not highly processed and should be eaten in moderation:
- flax seeds
- chia seeds
- sunflower seeds
- avocado oil
- olive oil
Fats to Avoid
There are definitely fats that should not be consumed AT ALL. Those are highly processed polyunsaturated fatty acids and trans fats.
- vegetable oil
- canola oil
- corn oil
- soybean oil
- safflower oil
- grapeseed oil
These oils are definitely not health-promoting. They are highly processed, easily damaged, and lead to inflammation, weight gain, lowered metabolism, and a whole host of other problems. Avoid these fats and anything that contains them.
This can be a big undertaking at first. Vegetable oils are in about everything, from salad dressings to packaged cookies, crackers, and cakes. Basically all “junk food” contains these inflammatory oils. So switching to less processed oils and saturated fats can take some time.
But slowly, try to start making your own homemade salad dressings and sauces using healthier oils. Your body will thank you!
How Much Fat?
I’m not a fan of counting macros, at least not long-term. However, it can be helpful for a few days to track your macronutrients to make sure you are getting a good amount of each. Then you know about what your plate should look like, and you can try to stick to those macros each day, without having to track them.
Shoot for getting about 25% of your calories from fat. Try eating that way for a few weeks and see how you feel. You can always lower your carbs and eat more fats if you feel better with that. If you are struggling with hormonal imbalance, definitely up your fats to closer to 35% of your calories.
I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know if you have any questions about choosing healthy fats! What is your favorite healthy fat source?