Eat More Fat (Here’s Why)
By Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN
Guess what? Eating fat, doesn’t necessarily make you fat. Fat is one of the major macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and protein, that acts as a major source of fuel for our bodies. Fat plays a key role in many different processes that help to keep us healthy so it’s important we get plenty of it. Before discussing all that fat does for your body, it’s important to know your fats: which ones to choose and which ones to avoid on a regular basis. Once you know what fats to eat more of, find out the many benefits they’ll be adding to your body.
Choose these most often:
- Unsaturated Fats
Unsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and mostly comes from plant-based sources. There are two types of unsaturated fats: mono and polyunsaturated fats, both of which can help fight inflammation and promote health. Mono and polyunsaturated fats are the types to focus on getting more of in the diet.
Moderate these more often:
- Saturated Fats
Saturated fat typically comes from animal-based sources (dairy and animal meat) but can also come from plant-based sources like coconut. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and is generally the type that we aim to moderate in our diets as in excess may promote inflammation and may contribute to heart diseaseExamples of food with saturated fat to eat in moderation: Animal-based sources of saturated fat are really the ones to eat in moderation. Including red meat cuts (especially those that are highly marbled), bacon, high fat (whole fat or 2% fat) dairy products including butter, milks, creamers and yogurts.A note about coconut-based products: Coconut is a plant-based source of saturated fat that is generally thought of as healthier than animal-based saturated fat, and can be consumed in moderation. Coconut oil also contains lauric acid that has been shown to have the potential to help raise healthy HDL or “good” cholesterol. Here are 8 reasons we love coconut oil.
WHAT DOES FAT DO?
Fat is key for many processes and functions in the body and is generally important for overall health. You want to make sure you are choosing the good fats to reap the many benefits. Here’s what fat does does:
- Provides Energy:
Fat provides low-sugar fuel to the body. It provides more calories per gram than the other macronutrients (9 calories per gram of fat versus 4 calories per gram of carbohydrates and protein), so as always it’s key to know your portion size.
- Boosts Satiety:
Fat (like protein) can help to slow the process of digestion, which helps to promote fullness and satisfaction; slowed digestion can also help prevent blood sugar spikes and subsequent energy crashes.
- Improves Vitamin Absorption:
Fat also plays an important role in the absorption of important vitamins, A, D, E and K; to reap this benefit, it’s key to eat the healthy fat with foods containing the vitamins (hint: green leafy vegetables contain both vitamins A and K so drizzle on some healthy oil and make a salad. Here are 7 healthy oils and how to use them.)
- Fights Inflammation:
Healthy fat including mono and polyunsaturated fats (omega 3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat) help to fight internal inflammation, which is the number one cause of disease; particularly when it comes to joint and heart-health.
- Promotes Healthy Blood Lipids:
Healthy fat like nuts, unrefined oils, avocado and even coconut meat or oil can help to both raise HDL cholesterol, the “good” kind of cholesterol and can also help to lower triglycerides. HDL cholesterol helps to remove and excrete cholesterol from blood vessels around the body. Together raising “good” cholesterol and lowering triglycerides can help to prevent heart disease.
- Brain health: Healthy fat including polyunsaturated fats, omega 3 fatty acids, and even some saturated fats are key for brain health. Fats help the brain to produce key neurotransmitters, “feel good” hormones- dopamine and serotonin and also help to keep the brain healthy (makes sense given the brain is about 60% fat).
WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T GET ENOUGH FAT?
So many people (especially people who are trying to lose weight) end up skimping on fat but it’s key for health and weight loss. Not getting enough fat can be detrimental to health, so make sure you’re including it every day. Lack of fat can cause:
- Increased risk for heart disease: Healthy fat is key for anti-inflammation in the heart and blood vessels, particularly omega 3 fatty acids
- Nutrient deficiencies: Primarily vitamins A, E and K along with omega 3 fatty acids
- Increased appetite and lack of satiety due to choosing higher carbohydrate foods that digests more quickly
- Increased risk for mood swings and depression: Given that the brain relies so heavily on healthy fats both for “feel good” hormone production and other key processes
- Dry eyes: Omega 3 fatty acids play a key role in preventing dry eyes and help to provide lubrication, so inadequate fat and especially omega 3’s can result in dry, itchy eyes
- Stunted weight loss: Inadequate fat intake can contribute to decreased satiety, and can therefore contribute to overeating.
- Dry skin: Fat acts as a lubricator to the body and to the cells and skimping on the fat can contribute to dry and itchy skin.
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