Co-written by Katie Wolf, graduate dietetic intern, and Eleanor Baker, Registered Dietitian and owner of Elevated Nutrition & Wellness
No matter what you read on the internet, the long standing debate seems to go on forever on whether eating fat actually makes us fat or not. If you eat a lot of fat, then you will get fat. Is this statement true? Does eating fat really make you fat or gain weight? Let’s talk about fat and why we need it. Our body needs fat to help us function on a daily basis. Fat is essential for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, and K. Fat also is a structural part of cell membranes, is a great source of energy, helps to protect our organs, and helps to keep up warm.
Dietary Fat Versus Body Fat
There is a major difference between dietary fat and body fat. As mentioned previously, body fat can occur around organs to protect them and under the skin. This is where the excess fat (energy) is stored and used when our body is in need of energy.
Dietary fat is fat that we consume and obtain through foods. Dietary fat contains 9 calories per gram whereas protein and carbohydrates cantonal 4 calories per gram. If the body doesn’t burn the fat for fuel then it is stored to be used as fuel later. Dietary fat is calorically dense which may contribute to weight gain if you eat the wrong kind of fat in excess. Fat often times it is added to products and we don’t even know they added fat for flavor thus making it very easy to overeat. There are types of dietary fat including saturated, trans fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Composition of Fats
Single bonds create an easily straight stackable structure leading to a buildup on arteries walls. The single bond is very stable in the body and not easily broken down. According to the American Heart Association, the general public should only include up to 7% of your caloric intake from saturated fat. Those at risk for cardiovascular disease should limit their intake to 5-6%. Examples of saturated fats include: red meats, poultry with skin, coconut oil, cheese and full-fat dairy products.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated Fat:
Unsaturated fats contain a double bond which creates a bent shape that doesn’t allow for an easy build up and tend not to stack easily on top of each other. They are also broken down (oxidized) easily. They can have a good effect on health when eaten in moderation. Examples of mono- and polyunsaturated fats include: avocados, olive oil, nuts and seeds and their butters, canola oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, as well as sesame seed oil.
Trans fats contain a double bonds but do not have an awkward bent shape like unsaturated fats. These fats are very harmful to your body and build up easily like saturated fats. Trans fats can raise your LDL cholesterol and lower your HDL cholesterol, putting you are greater risk of cardiovascular disease. Once fats are processed through hydrogenation, they become trans fats. This hydrogenation process helps to keep the fat from expiring quickly but are dangerous to our health. We should try to avoid these types of fat which can be found in fast food, frozen pizza, margarines, tortilla chips, and doughnuts.
Is Too Many Healthy Fats a Bad Thing?
Too much of any type of fat (good or bad) can be harmful to our health. As mentioned before, dietary fat contains 9 calories per gram making them very calorically dense. While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are beneficial to our health they provide a lot of added calories. If your health goal is to lose weight, eating high amounts of healthy fats which are still calorically dense, it will not help you reach your goal. You can use the nutrition facts label to help you figure out how much fat and other nutrients you are getting daily.
If you need help or have any further question about fat facts, how much to eat, and label reading, reach out to us to help you differentiate between the good fat and the bad fat, and how much you need daily.