Dietary Fat and Its Role in a Healthy Diet
It’s a fatty, fatty world out there. Everywhere we turn bakeries are springing up with high fat desserts and frosting galore. Small cakes and large cakes. Ice cream in new and exotic flavors. Fast food absolutely glistens with all the shimmery fat dripping off the foods and soaking into the wrapper. And now bacon is ‘trending’ as a fad food. All that dietary fat makes it a truly dangerous, fatty world out there.
On the flip side of too much dietary fat, eating no fat at all is not an option for your body either. If you consume little-to-no dietary fat, then your hair will become brittle, your skin and eyes will begin to dry out, and your digestive tract will suffer when you do begin to consume fat again. Dietary fats serve as the building block of your nerve and brain tissue. Fat surrounds vital organs to protect them from injury, such as your spleen and kidneys, as well as your eyes. Another function of dietary fat? To help you feel full. If you are constantly hungry, you might overconsume other foods like sugars and simple carbohydrates, which can harm your health over the long run.
We all know there are good fats and bad fats. Healthy dietary fats are an essential part of a nourishing diet, and include fats from foods like pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, nut butters, olive oil, and avocados. These healthy dietary fats are mixture of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are good for our heart, skin, and nervous system. These kinds of fats also help form our cell membranes. Omega-3 fats are also important healthy dietary fats, and we must consume them each day—because our body cannot make them. Healthy dietary fats that are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids include chia seeds, flax seeds, soybean, walnuts, fish and even shellfish.
Bad fats are two-fold. First, you have the saturated kind, which come from foods like bacon, sausage, milk, cheese, beef, chicken, pork, and lamb. These dietary fats are OK in moderation, but if you take in too much of these you automatically increase your risk of serious heart conditions, such as cardiovascular disease and stroke. The second-fold dietary fat is extremely bad for your health—and it’s important to avoid this type of dietary fat at all costs. Trans fats are without a doubt the worst type of fat, as they increase your risk of all kinds of chronic disease, not just cardiovascular diseases alone. Trans fats will masquerade in food that is processed and packaged for a longer shelf life.
Usually the nutrition facts label is not a good indicator of whether or not that food contains trans fats, but it’s better to look in the ingredient list for hydrogenated vegetable oil, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Food companies create a saturated fat from a normally unsaturated plant oil by chemically treating it. This makes for a longer shelf life, but is also accompanied by serious health risks, as it is not truly a saturated fat, it just behaves like one.
While healthy dietary fat is certainly an essential part of a well-rounded diet, getting too much will boost your calories—which can make losing weight harder. A good rule of thumb—aim for no more than 10g of fat per meal, and around 5-7g of fat at each snack. This will help ensure you don’t add extra calories even when you are adding healthy dietary fat. One tablespoon of olive oil contains 15g of fat – so you’ll want to watch how much of this you use on a daily basis, because it can really add up quickly!
Here are some easy ways to make healthy dietary fat a part of your meal plan:
1) When you buy cheese, make sure it contains more protein than fat when you inspect the label. This will help ensure you don’t get too much saturated fat from this food.
2) Try chia seeds – they are delicious little bubbles of delight, and work well with fruit or almond milk. Toss them in your next smoothie, just make sure you give them some time to soak up the liquid, or else you will be crunching on hard seeds. They give you almost all the healthy omega-3 dietary fats you need in a day with just one tablespoon.
3) Count your nuts. You will only need to do this a few times before you can eyeball it. For most nuts, 1 serving is ¼ of a cup – which is not very much when you measure this out. If you are having almonds, for example, count out 15 and you’ll see how this fills up a ¼ cup measuring cup. If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want to ensure you don’t have nuts every single day – maybe try to limit them to every other day during the week.
4) Substitute low-fat yogurt for sour cream, heavy cream, and whole milk. You won’t even miss the originals, and you’ll be decreasing your saturated fat automatically, while bumping up your protein as well.
5) Get an oil spritzer. You know, the one that you fill up with your own oil and it sprays a light mist over your food? This is a great way to limit the amount of healthy dietary fats that you add to your food.