The skinny on fats

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Ryan Day Coaching

Fat.  Those three letters evoke a mix of emotions in the world of nutrition.

Some see fats as the devil, and others hail them as nutritional heroes. So, which is it? Why do fats matter, and how can they impact your health?

Today, we’re diving deep into fats, demystifying their role as a macronutrient, and discussing some foods loaded with healthy fats.

Before we get too far, let’s set something straight: not all fats are bad.

The belief that fats should be avoided at all costs is outdated and can lead to seriously compromised health and malnutrition.

Fats are not the enemy.  In fact, they’re a vital part of a balanced diet. The key lies in understanding the different types of fats and making informed choices.

And that’s why we’re here.  So let’s start with figuring out what a “fat” even is.

Fats as macronutrients

Fats are one of the big three macronutrients (the others are protein and carbohydrates), and they are key for your body to function properly.

They are considered “essential” macronutrients because your body can’t make enough of them on its own for survival, which means you have to get it through your diet.

Fats are also the most calorically dense macronutrient, providing 9 calories per gram, while protein and carbohydrates are only 4 calories per gram.

Why fats are important

Fats are important for a few reasons.

First, they’re necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), which are crucial for various bodily functions, including immune support and bone health.

What does “fat-soluble” mean?  It just means these vitamins can dissolve in fat, which allows them to be stored in your liver and fat tissues.  

It’s worth noting that because these things can be stored in the body, consuming too much of these vitamins can actually start to have negative effects on your health.

On top of their role in nutrient absorption, fats provide a steady source of long-lasting energy that can help keep you fueled throughout the day.

If you’ve ever watched one of those survivalist shows like “Alone”, this is why the contestants are steadily looking for fatty animals.

And last, fats are critical for maintaining the structure of your cells and producing a healthy amount of hormones.

Bottom line: Without fats, your body just wouldn’t be able to function optimally.

The dangers of too much or too little fat

“Eating too much fat can make you fat.”  

Guess what.  So can eating too much protein or too many carbohydrates.  It’s the calorie surplus that leads to weight gain – not the fat.

I say this tongue-in-cheek, but there are some dangers to eating too much of the wrong fat, specifically trans fats.  

Lucky for us, trans fats have largely been removed from foods now, but that was not always the case.

Rule of thumb – if the nutrition label includes trans fat, don’t eat it.  No amount of trans fats is likely to serve you well.

Now there are dangers to eating too little fat.  

Some examples – skin issues, brittle hair or even hair loss, hormone imbalances that cause mood swings or irritability, and an overall negative impact on your health.

All this to say – you need fat in your diet.

Different types of fats

It’s very important for brain health and metabolic health that we eat a healthy mix of fats.  

Excluding trans fats (because we don’t like those 🙂), there are three types of fats: saturated fats, mono-unsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.  The difference just lies in the chemical structure.  

The optimal diet for most people will likely include some mix of all of these.  And within polyunsaturated fats, we have omega-3 fats and omega-6 fats.  

Americans generally over-eat omega-6 fats (think vegetable oils, butter, mayonnaise, and processed foods), and we tend to under-eat omega-3 fats (think salmon, mackerel, oysters, flaxseed, chia seeds).

Most people would benefit from increasing their intake of omega-3-rich foods and decreasing the omega-6-rich foods.  

So what fats should you be eating?

Think of it like this – if you could find it 200 years ago, you’re probably good to eat it.  

In addition to the fatty fish and seeds mentioned above, other healthy fat sources include:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Nuts
  • Avocado
  • Sardines
  • Dairy fat (if you can tolerate it)
  • Pumpkin seeds

Like any macronutrient, you don’t want to overeat fats.  Earlier we mentioned how it’s the calorie surplus that will make you fat – not the fats themselves.

On the other hand – The keto diet (where usually >70% of your diet comes from fat) works for some people because eating fat all day is super-filling.  This naturally makes you eat less, leading to a calorie deficit and weight loss.  

Again, it’s not anything magic about the fats that makes you lose weight.  It’s the calorie deficit.

Remember – fats aren’t the enemy, and they’re vital for optimal health.

By prioritizing healthy fat options and maintaining a balanced diet, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re setting yourself up for a more vibrant life.