Fat is possibly the most controversial nutrient out there. Years ago we believed too much fat directly caused heart disease, but now studies are showing that it can be good for us. So, what’s the deal? Here are the basics:
What does fat do?
Fat helps absorb vitamins, clot blood, balance hormone production, maintain healthy skin and hair, and supports a working brain (especially those omega-3s). Extremely low-fat diets are missing out on these important functions. Adding healthy fats to your meals also helps you feel more satisfied and can reduce snacking which might help some lose weight.
So, which fats are healthy?
The “good” fats–the unsaturated fats–are found in fish, avocados, olive oil, canola oil, and nuts and seeds like walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds. These help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Your daily fat intake should consist of mostly unsaturated fats. A handful of walnuts, two tablespoons of chia seeds, or one tablespoon of olive oil are great portions of healthy fats.
Saturated fats can raise LDL cholesterol, but are fine in moderation along with unsaturated fats. Butter, cheese, yogurt, and most animal derived fat is saturated fat. Coconut oil actually contains both unsaturated and saturated fats, but is still best in moderation. These should not be your primary source of fat. It is important to note that grass-fed meat and dairy contain more beneficial omega-3s than grain-fed, so this is a healthier option.
Try to avoid trans fats at all costs. Trans fats are hydrogenated (hardened) vegetable oils, and are usually used to preserve processed food. These hardened oils are more likely to clog arteries than the other two kinds of fats which leads to a higher risk of heart disease. Using whole, real ingredients ensures you won’t be consuming these fats.
There is no single amount of fat intake for everyone. Some people need more fat in their diet, like nursing or pregnant women. Some people need less, like those with a high risk of heart attack. Always talk to your doctor for a more personalized amount. Generally, a well balanced diet with plenty of protein, “good” fat, and fresh vegetables ensures a healthy mind and body.
Weekly Fig is a private membership association for local sustainable foods.