Healthy fats, also known as dietary fats, play such an important role in our health – but there is a lot of confusion around them.
Many people believe that they should stick to a low-fat diet and others are not entirely sure where to find healthy fats or how much to consume.
Of all macronutrients, people have the most misconceptions about fat!
Discover why healthy fats are so important to include in your meals and some whole foods plant-based sources to use when preparing a dish.
Why you need healthy fat in your diet
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Fats are important for the health of cells and hormones. Unlike carbohydrates and proteins, fats also provide our body with a protective layer that literally isolates our organs and helps maintain a normal core body temperature.
Fats also help us digest important fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K that keep our brain, cells, hormones, tissues, hair, skin and nails healthy.
Fat provides the structural components for many cell membranes, which are essential for cell development and which transport various messages quickly through our body via hormones.
Fat also acts as a slower release energy source for our bodies. Think of fat as a reserve or as our long-term energy source that will last the longest.
This also helps you stay full longer as it takes longer to digest. Eating fats with every meal can aid hormones related to your hunger. For example, eating omega-3 fats can help lower insulin levels while fasting, and eating fat releases CCK, or cholecystokinin, a satiety hormone made in your gut.
Have you ever made your own salad with only lettuce and low fat dressing and a few hours later you were starving, but when you make a salad as a starter with lots of foods like egg whites, other vegetables and dressing, are you nice and full?
This is because these starter salads usually have all five elements of the basic five (protein, healthy fats, the flavor factor, and non-starchy and starchy carbohydrates), including a delicious olive oil dressing.
These are just some of the reasons why healthy fats are so important to eat on a daily basis.
Two types of fat should be understood
There are two types of fats to know.
There are two basic types of fat, saturated and unsaturated.
Unsaturated – Aka "Healthy Fat"
Unsaturated fats are considered to be "healthy fats," including polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
These types of fats are typically found in vegetable oils that are liquid at room temperature, in oily fish (salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel), and in nuts and seeds.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 fatty acids, which are the building blocks of the aforementioned cell membranes. Omega-3s also give your body energy, support your hormones, your brain health, and your immune health.
Wild-caught salmon, olive oil, avocados, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are filled with omega-3 fatty acids.
Ideally, it is best to get omega-3 fatty acids from fish sources, which contain more metabolic and bioavailable forms of DHA and EPA.
Omega-3-rich plant-based foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds need to be switched from ALA to DHA and EPA in the body. This conversion does not result in optimal omega-3 levels compared to food sources such as salmon. Mackerel and other fish.
Monounsaturated fats are considered healthy fat, which is also a good source of vitamin E.
Monounsaturated fats include olives, avocados, hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and olive oil.
Saturated fats are usually considered "unhealthy fats" and include animal fats (meat, poultry, dairy products) and vegetable oils that are solid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oil.
However, more and more research is changing every day on the saturated fat debate and whether or not they negatively impact cardiovascular health over the long term.
Whenever I mention coconut oil as a healthy fat, I get the reaction, "But McKel, that's saturated fat!" It is save. Coconut oil consists of around 90% saturated fatty acids. Why do I personally use and recommend this oil in cooking?
The type of fatty acids that make up the saturated fat content of coconut oil are medium chain triglycerides (MCT), and make up about 65% of the fat content.
In contrast to long-chain fatty acids (most of the fats in our diet), which must be modified before digestion and absorption into our bodies, medium-chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract into the portal system.
In other words, our bodies find it very easy to break down the fat before it is quickly absorbed and used by the body for energy.
How Much Healthy Fat Should I Eat in a Day?
I'm sure you are now asking, ok, I know why I need healthy fats and where to get them, but how much should I include in my day?
This is one of the most popular questions I am asked and I will cover it more fully in my membership.
The exact amount will depend on your lifestyle, health and fitness goals, digestion, activity level, and genetics.
However, a general rule of thumb is that a serving of healthy fats is about 1 tablespoon or an ounce, which is roughly the length of your thumb for quick visual representation.
If you're getting healthy fats at every meal and using this serving size as a rule of thumb to determine your unique serving size by checking your hunger and feeling of satiety, this is a good place to start. I also teach more about learning your portion sizes in my method membership!
Put this into practice
Healthy fats are part of a balanced diet. If you are overwhelmed by the diet and want to make sure you are eating a balanced diet every day, enroll in the Foundational Five Course for My Food.
- "Fat Soluble Vitamins". Diet and health: implications for reducing the risk of chronic diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218749/
- "Fat Digestion in the Stomach: Stability of Lingual Lipase in the Stomach Environment." https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6427744
- "Omega-3 Fatty Acids". https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/