Despite fat having a bad rap, especially when it comes to your diet, not all types are bad. In fact, when consumed in the right form and quantity, dietary fat plays a crucial role in maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. It helps provide your body with energy, protects your organs, supports cell growth, regulates cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and even promotes the absorption of vital nutrients. But there are certainly some bad types to look out for.
Fortunately, we have you covered with everything you need to know to get the proper amounts of the right kind of dietary fats that your body needs to support your body’s overall health and wellbeing.
What Are Dietary Fats?
Dietary fat is the type of fat that you get from the food you eat. It is one of the major types of nutrients that you get from your diet, with protein and carbohydrates being the others, and is essential for maintaining general health and wellness. However, the key is to ensure you’re consuming the right form of fat and quantity. This is because your body breaks down the fat you consume into smaller parts called fatty acids. These fatty acids then enter into your bloodstream and are used to create the fats your body needs. Some of the crucial roles fats play in your health include:
- Gives the body energy
- Supports cell function
- Protect your organs
- Helps the body absorb vitamins A, vitamin D and vitamin E
- Supports cell growth
- Keeps cholesterol levels under control
- Keeps blood pressure levels under control
Now, some of these key roles cannot be performed effectively without fat. For example, vitamin A, D and E are fat-soluble vitamins, meaning that they can only be absorbed with the help of fat.
However, not all dietary fats are created equal. Different types of fats have different effects on your body. Some are essential, and some can increase the risk of disease, while others can actually help prevent it. It’s important to be mindful of the types of fats you consume and make sure we’re getting the right balance for our overall health.
Types of Dietary Fat
There are four kinds of dietary fats that come from the foods you consume: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. It’s essential to understand how these different fats affect your body, as each one offers unique chemical structures and physical properties. For example, a diet high in saturated and trans fats can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in your blood, whereas incorporating healthy fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, into your diet can help lower your bad cholesterol levels.
The four main types of dietary fats are:
Let’s talk about saturated fats. They mainly come from animal sources like meat and dairy, but can also be found in some plant sources, such as coconut oil. These types of fats tend to be more solid at room temperature, as they’re made up of chains of carbon atoms that are bonded with hydrogen. Butter is a good example of saturated fats.
Some other examples of saturated fats are:
- Coconut oil
- Cured Meats
Unfortunately, many studies have found that overconsumption of saturated fats is one of the leading causes of obesity, heart disease and several other serious health conditions, such as unhealthy LDL “bad” cholesterol levels and stroke.
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that is naturally found in milk and some meat products. However, they are also created through an industrial process called hydrogenation, which adds hydrogen to vegetable oil.
During this process, extra hydrogen atoms are bound to the empty spaces along chains of carbon atoms that make up the fat. Now, unsaturated fats naturally have spaces along the chain of carbon atoms, so they don’t become fully saturated with hydrogen. With this process, these spaces get filled and as a result, the liquid unsaturated fat turns into a solid.
Some examples of trans-fat foods include:
- Fried foods
- Frozen pizzas
- Commercial baked goods
Additionally, trans fats are commonly used within the restaurant industry for the deep fryers, as partially hydrogenated oil doesn’t need to be changed as frequently as regular oil.
Unfortunately, many health experts say that trans fats are the worst types of fats to consume and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. It’s also been known to increase levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels and reduce your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
Monounsaturated fats are healthy fats that only contain one unsaturated carbon bond, that are incredibly beneficial for lowering “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels and other related risks, including a reduced risk of heart disease.
Some examples of monounsaturated fats are:
- Olive oil
- Peanut oil
- Canola oil
- Pumpkin seeds
Polyunsaturated fats are another type of healthy fat that contain more than one double bond in their carbon chain, leading empty spaces for hydrogen along the chain, making them unsaturated. They are best known for their omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which can be found in a variety of animal and plant-based sources. Since our bodies are unable to produce omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids on their own, it’s essential to consume enough of both within your diet.
Some examples of polyunsaturated fats are:
- Soybean oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Flax seeds
Impacts of Dietary Fats on Your Health
The way dietary fat affects your health highly depends on the type of fat. After all, unsaturated and trans fats are unhealthy and come with plenty of negative health risks, whereas monosaturated and polysaturated fats are quite the opposite.
However, one thing all fats have in common is that they contain nine calories per gram, regardless of the type. This makes them more energy-dense than carbohydrates and proteins, but consuming too many can spike your calories and lead to weight gain and being overweight.
Some other things to remember include:
- Pro: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats help protect your heart by maintaining healthy levels of “good” HDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in your bloodstream while also reducing your risk of obesity, heart disease and other related health conditions.
- Con: High amounts of saturated or trans fats can increase your levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, as well as your risk of heart disease and stroke. They can also lead to obesity and related conditions.
It’s also important to mention that eliminating too much fat from your diet can result in severe health consequences. For example, not consuming enough fat can increase your risk of vitamin deficiencies.
Tips for Reducing Unhealthy Fats and Increasing Healthy Fats in Your Diet
You need a sufficient amount of fat in your diet to support the key functions they play in your overall health and wellness. So, you want to make sure you’re getting most – if not all of your dietary fat from healthy sources. Think: oils, fish and nuts instead of fried foods and butter.
Here are some tips to help you reduce the amount of unhealthy fats in your diet and trade them in for the healthier varieties:
- Start by limiting foods high in saturated and trans fats
- Aim to replace all saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats
- Cut back on red meat and butter
- Replace red meat with fish
- Snack on crunchy nuts instead of chips
- Cook and bake with healthier oils, instead of ghee and butter
- Cook from scratch instead of purchasing packaged, ready-made products
- Consume more vegetables and smaller portions of red meat and cheese
- Cut off visible fat from meat
- Drain the fat after cooking ground meat
- Choose your restaurants wisely
- Avoid fried fast foods
- When dining out, ask for a nutritional guide and opt for items with the lowest amount of saturated and trans fats
- Use lemon and pepper to add flavor to your food (instead of sauces)
- Opt for tomato-base sauces over cheese or alfredo sauces
- Top your salads with nuts instead of cheese
- Take your salad dressings on the side (and make sure they’re oil-based)
- Choose low-fat or fat-free foods
Not all fat is created equal. While there’s no denying that you can certainly go without the unhealthy kinds and the serious health risks that come with them, incorporating foods that contain healthy fats into your diet is just as important for maintaining optimal health. But remember, all fats have the same number of calories so it’s also crucial to make sure you’re not only consuming the right types of fat, but the right amounts as well. As a general rule of thumb, saturated fats shouldn’t exceed more than 5-6% of your daily calories. The good news: the tips in this article will help you achieve this.