Updated: 5 hours ago
Fat. Often labeled as 'the bad guy,' much like carbs, it can get a bad rap. But the truth is you need fat to support healthy body function! Let's shed some light on fat and talk about the difference between the good and bad fats so that you can be empowered to make healthier food choices and support your health and weight loss goals.
Good and Bad Fat. You may have heard fat referred to as 'good' or 'bad,' but what does that mean? Let's start with the good: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. These are the good guys and have shown to be beneficial for heart health, healthy cholesterol levels, and play an important role in your overall health.
Saturated and trans fats, on the other hand, are classified as 'bad' fats because they increase risk of heart disease, clog arteries, elevate bad cholesterol levels, and negatively impact overall health. In fact, studies have shown that even small amounts of trans fat can lower good cholesterol (HDL) and raise bad cholesterol (LDL), increasing risk of heart disease and stroke. Yikes!
That's why The American Heart Association recommends saturated fat consumption be limited to 5-6% of daily calorie consumption. For example, if someone who consumes 1600 calories a day that equates to about 10-11 grams of saturated fat...and those fats can add up quick!
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, a.k.a. the "good fats" are commonly found in:
Nut butter and seed butters
Saturated fat and trans fats, a.k.a. the "bad fats," are typically found in animal products:
Fatty cuts of beef, pork and lamb
Dark chicken meat
Whole fat dairy products
Deep fried foods such as french fries, doughnuts and fast foods
Pre-packaged snack foods such as candy bars, cookies, crackers and microwave popcorn
Baked goods such as pastries, muffins, pizza doughs, cakes and breads
The "aha!" moment
You may be noticing that the good fats are more commonly found in healthier foods, items that come from animals, plants, or trees, whereas the bad fats tend to be found in foods that come in boxes, bags, or fast food restaurants.
Now that you know what foods to look out for, you can feel empowered to make healthier food choices. Because when you know better, it's easier to do better.
Two tips for healthy success:
1. Read those nutrition labels. It's important not just to know what type of fat you're eating, but also how much. Did you know that fat packs 9 calories per gram? And that's more than carbs or protein, so you want to be mindful of just how many of your daily calories are coming from fat versus the other macronutrients in order to support a healthy caloric balance. This is especially important if you're on a weight loss journey and working to stay inside your ideal calorie range for weight loss each day.
2. Know your numbers. The USDA recommends healthy adults get 20-35% of their daily calories from fat, limiting saturated and trans fat intakes to just 10%. How do you know where you fit in that range? A few general guidelines are if trying to lose weight you will want to stick to the lower end of that spectrum, whereas athletes or individuals looking to maintain their current weight will likely be somewhere in the middle or upper end of the spectrum. Other factors to consider are your current health and energy needs. A health and fitness professional can better help you determine what daily intake of fat percentage is appropriate for you and give you the appropriate caloric range to aim for.
Question: are fat-free foods healthier? The short answer is no. While food trends and clever marketing may make you think fat is the enemy, it's not that black and white. In recent years more and more food companies have been trending toward fat-free and trans fat-free versions of their products, recognizing consumers desire to reduce their unhealthy fat intakes.
Unfortunately this does not always translate to a "healthier" food product. Take a closer look at those nutrition labels to get a real picture as to what you're about to eat. In many cases fat will be replaced with some other preservative (sugar and salt being the most common). If you notice a host of ingredients you can't pronounce, then you're in trouble. A good rule of thumb is if you don't recognize an ingredient or couldn't spell it in a spelling bee, then your body won't recognize it either. So read those nutrition labels!
The take home: despite clever marketing and dietary fads, fat is an essential macronutrient:
Fat protects your vital organs
Fat provides the thermal insulation that helps you maintain core body temperature
Fat is the body's primary energy source while at rest and during steady states of low to moderate intensity exercise
Fat supplies essential fatty acids, which in turn supports your ability to absorb fat-soluble vitamins and form cell membrane structure
Fat gives texture to your food which translates to greater satisfaction and satiety
Bottom line: while the word “fat” may conjure up some less than desirable images, it's important to recognize the essential role fat plays in our overall health and well-being. We all need fat, in moderation, to support healthy body function. By understanding the difference between "good" and "bad" fats, you're able to promote a healthy balance, coupled with protein and complex carbs so you can feel, move, and perform at your best! So go ahead and nosh on the nuts, throw some sliced avocado on your green salad, and grill up some salmon, your healthy heart will thank you!
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