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What is fat?

Fat might be the most controversial of the macronutrients and many people, maybe even yourself, have spent years trying to stay away from it as much as possible! But fat is extremely important to our health and staying away from it can do more harm than good – did you know your brain is 60% fat?

There are three types of fat: saturated fat which is mainly found in things like coconut oil and butter, monounsaturated fat, like in olive oil or avocados, and finally polyunsaturated fat, like in fish, flaxseed, and chia seeds. We need a mixture of all three to be healthy, and all sources of fat are varying ratios of all three of these types.

Why do I need fat in my diet?

Don’t fear that fat will make you fat! Eating healthy fat is part of a balance diet.

Fats are extremely important for our body, and it is vitally important that we consume enough, quality sources. Some of the roles fat plays are:

  • Providing a concentrated source of energy & aiding in regulating energy absorption
  • Acting as building blocks for our cell membranes and hormones
  • Forming a protective lining for our organs
  • Allowing for the proper use of protein and the proper absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K

Not to mention that fat makes food taste even better and increases our level of satiety after a meal.

Where can I get fat from?

Some great sources of healthy fats are:

  • Nuts and seeds
  • Raw, cold-pressed oils from nuts and seeds
  • Extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil
  • Avocados
  • Fats from healthy animals
  • Butter and raw dairy products
  • Egg yolks
  • Fish

But just like protein, the quality of your fat is vital. In today’s modern diet full of processed foods we tend to overconsume bad, toxic fats, that stress out our system and cause disease. These are fats like vegetable oils which are very unstable and can oxidize and go rancid incredibly easily, as well as margarine and other hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats.

Fats to steer clear of (either highly processed or are commonly damaged during processing):

  • Margarine/butter replacements
  • Corn oil
  • Canola/rapeseed oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Sunflower oil

Like with all our nutrients, proper digestion of fat is extremely important. I cover the mechanics in more detail in my posts on digestion, but the gallbladder is one of the key players in proper fat breakdown. If you suffer from gallbladder issues or have had your gallbladder removed, it could be beneficial to take some supplementary gallbladder support. Talk to your doctor or nutrition professional if you think this might be you!

Image via StockSnap.io

How much do I need?

When balancing your plate, aim for around 30% of the calories coming from fat (and 30% from protein and 40% from carbs). Fat packs a bigger energy punch per gram than carbs and protein do. While carbs and protein both provide 4 calories/gram, fat provides 9 calories/gram.

In general, you’re not going to see fat as visibly represented when you build your plate. Often it’s the substance we use to cook our food or dress our veggies and salads.

If you are consuming around 1800 calories a day, then you would need to aim for roughly 60g of fat. To give you an idea on how this could breakdown, here are some examples of the approximate amount of fat per serving in a few items(1):

  • Avocado, meat from half (85g / 3oz) – 26.7g of fat
  • Olive oil (15mL / 1 tbsp) – 14.0g of fat
  • Butter (28g / 1oz) – 23.0g of fat
  • Walnuts (30g / 1.1oz) – 20g of fat
  • Salmon, wild Atlantic (115g / 4oz) – 9.2g of fat

Cooking with Fat

Making sure you are consuming high quality fat sources and cooking with the correct types of fats is really critical in maintaining a healthy body. Fatty acids are literally forming the structure of our cells, and if we are consuming poor quality or oxidized and rancid fats, these damaged fatty acids are being incorporated instead. Below are some tips in terms of storage and cooking with common fat sources.

In terms of storage, nut and seeds (including their oils) as a best practice should be stored in the fridge or at the least a cool, dark place. If they smell off, toss them out! If you are grinding them up for a later use (for example flaxseed to use in smoothies), keep the amount to what you would use within the week, and be sure to store this in the fridge.

Coconut oil, olive oil, and ghee should be stored in a cool, dark place. Butter and animal fat should be kept in the fridge. When purchasing oils, be sure they are stored in a dark glass or opaque container – light exposure can cause these delicate substances to oxidize before you’ve even brought them home!

Here are some helpful guidelines in terms of which fats you should use for cooking (without damaging their structure) and which are to be used for cold-use only:  

  • High-heat cooking: coconut oil, butter/ghee, animal fats (beef/pork/duck)
  • Low-heat cooking: olive oil, avocado oil, macadamia nut oil
  • Cold-use only: other nut & seed oils

 

Still have some lingering fat questions? Just drop me a comment!

(1) Netzer, Corrine T. The Complete Book of Food Counts. New York: Dell, 2012. Print.

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