Do you find yourself drawn to foods labeled, “Fat Free! Reduced Fat! Low Fat!”? After all, if a food is high in fat, it must make you fat. Seems logical, right?
Years ago, this theory resulted in a plethora of foods with additives and higher amounts of sugar, meant to replicate the taste and textures only fats can provide. I call this the “Snackwells era,” as I specifically remember buying and eating (countless) sleeves of these tasty Devil’s Food cookies. Where are my fellow children of the 80s? Raise your hands! I know you remember these tasty, delightful treats.
More than a decade passed before people began to realize that excessive sugar is a leading cause of heart disease and can result in increased inflammation of the body. Shortly after, we also began to learn more about the role of fat in our bodies, it became more acceptable to consume this crucial macronutrient.
What are macronutrients and why do I need them?
Macronutrients are a category of nutrients present in large amounts in food. They include carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Macronutrients impact your body’s ability to do work, recover from exercise, fight disease and manage satiety as well as body composition. When you’re not consuming enough carbs, protein and fats, your body cannot perform optimally.
What is the role of fat?
Despite all of the information about the benefits of fat, they generally tend to be associated with “junk food,” which means at one time or another, you probably avoided eating them (or maybe you still do). Dietary fat provides your body with energy. It’s crucial for manufacturing and balancing hormones. It also forms cell membranes along with the the brain and nervous systems. Without fats, our body would not be able to transport vitamins A, D, E and K, which are fat-soluble. Lastly, because the body cannot make linoleic acid and linolenic acid, we must consume these omega-6 and omega-3 (respectively) fatty acids through diet. Research shows that a lack of fats in the diet can lead to memory loss, difficulty concentrating and other mood problems.
What are the benefits of fats?
In moderation, healthy fats can help you to manage stress as well as improve your mood and energy levels. By replacing less healthy fats with better options, you will experience a wide range of benefits.
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by improving the status of arteries in the elderly
- Improved blood pressure
- Reduced cholesterol through improved balance between LDLs and HDLs
- Reduced cognitive decline
- Reduced oxidative stress caused by aging
- Reduced risk of depression, with fat providing building blocks for cell membranes
- Lower risk of stroke
- Lower risk of obesity due to improved satiety, which prevents excess consumption of empty, high-calorie foods
- Lower risk of diabetes due to improved blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity
Which types of fats should I consume and how much?
Macronutrient ratios are different for everyone. These numbers will vary based on components such as your height, weight, gender and activity level. Your goals will also affect how much of each macronutrient you should be consuming each day. You can use this macronutrient calculator to estimate your unique needs.
Choose foods with “good,” monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, that can lower your risk of disease. While your choice of healthy fats will depend on your preferences, they include the following.
- Nuts and nut butters
- Whole eggs
- Fatty fish
- Chia seeds
- Extra virgin olive oil
Which types of fats should I avoid?
It’s best to limit foods high in saturated fat, while avoiding trans fats all together. Too much saturated fat can cause cholesterol to build in your arteries, reducing the flow of blood through your vessels. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) levels. They are also associated with a great risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Examples include the following.
- Baked goods
- Fried food