Despite the low fat diet trend of the 90’s, including fat in your diet is extremely important to keep your body strong, healthy, and kicking serious ass.
To stay healthy, we should never try to leave fat completely out of our diets.
All three macronutrients, protein, carbohydrates and fat are important for us and should all be present in a well rounded diet. Depending on a person’s individual needs and goals, the ratios of those macronutrients may vary, but in general, it’s never a good idea to leave out or extremely limit any of them. And fat is no different.
Why We Are Afraid of Fats
It used to be a common belief that we should only eat a low fat diet to be healthy and lean. That misconception has led many people to think that we should avoid fats completely or eat only no-fat or low-fat foods.
Many people are afraid to eat fat because they’re afraid to gain weight. But we can gain weight eating too much of anything.
For example, eating too much sugary foods does the same, even if those foods are low-fat or fat-free.
The truth is that it’s not that eating fat makes us fat. It’s about quality and quantity of the foods that we’re eating that can make us gain weight.
Another common fear is that eating fat would raise our cholesterol and give us heart attacks. Research has also shown this not to be true. There are two types of cholesterol, the good one and the bad one, and any rise in the bad one is usually caused by systemic inflammation that is often a result of a poor diet (eating lots of junky and sugary foods), but we shouldn’t blame healthy fats as the cause of these problems.
The Importance of Dietary Fat
Years ago, I was on the low-fat no-fat bandwagon too. I was afraid that I would gain fat from eating fat, so I did what I could to avoid that.
Instead of getting healthier, I got unhealthier. When I was eating a very low fat diet, I experienced brain fog, exhaustion, had a hard time focusing, and was constantly hungry. That went on for years and years, but once I got over my fear of eating fats, all of those things improved. My thinking cleared up really quickly and I was able to stay full for hours after eating.
Here are some other reasons why we should make sure we get fat with our diet:
- Fat is high in calories, providing us with lots of energy
- Fat is necessary to absorb vitamins. Some vitamins, like A, D, E and K, are so-called fat soluble, which means that without the presence of fat we don’t get the benefits of them
- Fats allow our nerves, brains, and hearts to function properly
- Fat is satiating, helping us to stay full longer without constantly making us think about food
- Fat makes food taste better!
Not All Dietary Fat Is Good
Unsurprisingly, there are higher quality fats and lower quality fats, just like there are high quality carbs and not-so-healthy carbs.
The type of fats that we want to minimize in our diets are trans fats. Consuming trans fats increase the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease the level of good cholesterol (HDL).
Typical sources of trans fats are most store-bought cakes, cookies and other baked goods, almost all kinds of chips (even though there are some new brands out there that are made with avocado or olive oil, which are better options), most fried foods, and vegetable oils, shortening and margarine.
Of course, it’s unreasonable to think that you’ll never have a store bought cookie or that you’ll never eat out because most restaurants use vegetable oils. But we can all make better options and choose what we want to use in our homes.
What Kind of Fats Should You Eat?
The easiest way to consider what kinds of fats to eat is to think about whether you can find it in nature. For example, coconuts and cows are part of nature, so coconut oil and butter are safe fats to eat. The following fatty foods can be found in nature and are safe to eat (of course, given that you have no allergies or other intolerances to these foods):
- Fatty fish (preferably wild caught)
- Animal meats (preferably grass fed)
- Butter, ghee
- Oils: Olive, avocado, coconut…
- Full fat dairy products
- Eggs (preferably pasture raised)
- Avocados and olives
So-called vegetable oils (canola, corn, sunflower, safflower) are different though. They sound like something you’d find in nature and therefore seem like a good idea, but the way they are processed (using hexane) is not healthy at all.
How Much Fat to Eat?
How much fat we should eat each day, depends our individual bodies and our personal goals.
In general, most people do best when fats make up about 20-35 percent of their macronutrient intake. This may seem like a wide range, but it’s because some people simply do better eating a lower fat diet, while others do better eating a higher fat diet.
If you eat about 2,200 calories a day, then 20–35% means that you should get about 440–770 calories worth of fat every day. Because one gram of fat consists of 9 calories, you can figure out the grams of fat you need by dividing 440 and 770 by 9.
440/9=50 and 770/9=85.
That means, a person who eats 2,200 calories a day should get 50–85 grams a day from fat.
If you don’t want to get that specific and count or measure anything, don’t worry–you don’t have to. The easiest way to monitor this is to use your thumbs: women should eat roughly one thumb size (entire thumb!) amount of fat at every meal, and men roughly two thumb sizes.
Fat Amounts in the Most Common Healthy Fat Sources
If you do want to figure out the exact numbers, here’s a list of the most common healthy fat sources and amounts in their regular serving sizes:
Fish and Meat
- Tuna, raw, 4 oz – 5 grams of fat (140 kcal; 26g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Salmon, raw, 4 oz – 5 grams of fat (130 kcal; 21 g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Mackerel, raw, 1 fillet (about 4 oz) – 4 grams of fat (230 kcal, 21 g protein, o g carbs)
- Sardines, canned in oil, 1 can drained 10.5 grams of fat – (191 kcal, 23 g protein, o g carbs)
- Ground Beef, lean, 4 oz – 8 grams of fat (250 kcal; 30 g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Steak, lean, cooked 4 oz – 6 grams of fat (250 kcal; 30 f protein, 0 g carbs)
Butter, Ghee and Oils
- Butter, 2 tbsp – 23 grams of fat (200 kcal, 0 g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Ghee, 2 tbsp – 23 grams of fat (200 kcal, 0 g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Olive, avocado, coconut and other similar oils, 2 tbsp – 28 grams of fat (250 kcal, 0 g protein, 0 g carbs)
Nuts (all raw, unprocessed)
- Macadamia nuts, 1 oz (about 10-12 nuts) – 21 grams of fat (204 kcal, 2 g protein, 4 g carbs)
- Pecans, 1 oz (about 20 halves) – 20 grams of fat (196 kcal, 3 g protein, 4 g carbs)
- Brazil nuts (about 7 nuts) – 19 grams of fat (190 kcal, 4 g protein, 4 g carbs)
- Walnuts, 1 oz – 18 grams of fat (185 kcal, 4 g protein, 4 g carbs)
- Almonds, small handful (about 25 almonds) – 14 grams of fat (160 kcal, 6 g protein, 6 g carbs)
- Whole Milk, 1 cup – 8 grams of fat (146 kcal, 8 g protein, 11 g carbs)
- Whole Milk Greek yogurt, 5.3 oz container (150 grams) – 5 grams of fat (120 kcal, 15 g protein, 5 g carbs)
- Whole Milk Cottage Cheese, 1 cup – 9 grams of fat (220 kcal, 26g protein, 10 g carbs)
- Eggs, one average – 4 grams of fat (63 kcal; 6 g protein, 0 g carbs)
- Avocado, 1/2 average fruit – 10 grams of fat (110 kcal, 2 g protein, 6 g carbs)
- Olives, 10 pieces – 5 grams of fat (50 kcal, 0 g protein, 2 g carbs)
Don’t Fear Fats!
Dietary fat is absolutely essential to our body. It makes us feel good, keeps our thinking sharp, and makes food more satiating and tasty. Don’t be afraid of fats, but choose healthy ones and avoid junky trans fats as much as possible.
Kersten Kimura is a NASM PT, kettlebell enthusiast and a fan of HIIT workouts. After relocating from chilly Estonia to California, she has taken full advantage of the area and works out outdoors whenever possible. You can find her throwing around her sandbag or swinging kettlebells at local parks, or sprinting along the gorgeous Bay Trail.
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