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For anyone who has been in the world of conscious eating, we know that saturated fats have been coined “bad fats” while unsaturated are called “good fats”.
Is it really that simple? Fat is still fat, but is that what makes us fat? Choosing good or bad has less impact on your waistline and more to do with your physical wellness. If it seems easier to just cut out fat, think again. With no fat, you’ll die. With too much of the wrong fat, you can become gravely ill. Understanding how it all works is really important.
Here are some simple truths.
The body needs a minimum of 10% fat in the diet just to survive.
This doesn’t allow it to function at its best. The recommended percentage of fat in the diet is 20-35% to operate as we should. While staying in this range is optimal, it doesn’t mean you won’t gain weight if you eat below 35%. Weight is not determined by fat. Weight is determined by calories. Which means no single macro is to blame for obesity.
The reason fat has such a terrible reputation in regards to the scale is a matter of ratios. Protein and carbs have a mere 4 calories per gram, while fat has 9 calories per gram. So if you eat equal parts, then yes fats are causing weight gain. Put them all in proper proportions, and all three macros work together to fuel the body as it needs. Why then does strict calorie counting and observance of macro balance still not help everyone lose the extra pounds? It’s the age-old truth of what you put in, you must put to use.
So stop blaming fat and start enjoying it.
Fats are what make foods rich, creamy, heavy and quite honestly delicious. The difference between the two fats is a matter of bonds or lack thereof. Saturated lacks the double bonds in the fatty acid chain because they are literally saturated with hydrogen molecules while unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between the individual carbon atoms. This may not seem relevant, but it is why the two fats are so easy to differentiate. The “bad” fats are solid at room temperature. The “good” fats are liquid.
Fats are what the body uses for energy, how it absorbs certain nutrients, what it uses to develop and grow and is necessary for cellular maintenance.
This is why incorporating the right fat in the right quantity is crucial to optimal weight & physical health.
Unfortunately, saturated fats compose a large part of the typical American diet: butter, cheese, milk, packaged foods and snacks, all meat but particularly red meat and processed meats like sausage, hotdogs, lunch slices and baked foods like cakes and pastries. It’s even in your coconut oil.
Too much saturated fat is what drastically raises cholesterol in the blood. Excessive amounts of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) forms fatty deposits in your arteries which then puts you at risk for a stroke or heart attack. If you just can’t get satisfaction without these foods, opt for a medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) saturated fat like coconut oil or chocolate.
Now let’s look at unsaturated fats. Just as we broke down the bonds above, this particular macro is further broken down by how many carbon atoms are in that chain. Medium and short chains belong to saturated fats, but unsaturated are longer and break down into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. This doesn’t need to be confusing, mono means one, meaning there is only one bond and poly is more than one, so there are two or more bonds.
It’s the age-old truth of what you put in, you must put to use.
How does this relate to your diet?
Monounsaturated fats become solid when cold like olive oil, and are found in some common foods like peanuts, almonds, pecans, avocados and olives. This particular fat has been proven to lower LDL and raise HDL cholesterol. It can also help regulate blood sugar, reduce inflammation and protect the heart rhythm.
Polyunsaturated fats are great as well. They also help lower bad cholesterol and provide omega-3 fatty acids which protect the heart from high blood pressure and could also help with type 2 diabetes. Add these fats in with fish like salmon or tuna, walnuts, lots of seeds including flax, sunflower, sesame or pumpkin and vegetable oils.
Now you know how to make the right choices when it comes to fat. There’s no reason to skip it all together, and your body wouldn’t let you anyway.
When preparing a meal, try to determine how many saturated fats you can cut out or replace with an unsaturated fat.
When reading a label, be aware of the difference and what ingredients contain what you need and what you don’t. This will help you rule out foods that are disguised in healthy packaging.
There is no benefit to drinking a protein shake that is filled with the wrong type of fat, and they are out there. Many shakes use a form of powdered oil to give your drink the right consistency. Read the ingredients and check out the nutritional profile. Take a look at OWYN’s ready to drink protein shakes. There are 7 grams of fat, but only 1 gram is saturated, and the oils used are fully plant-based. This is a great addition to your conscious eating lifestyle.
Laura Manning, MPH, RDN, CDN The Low FODMAP diet is getting some well-deserved attention these days.