Posted by our friends at Kettlebell Kitchen… some good info!
Dietary fat has gone from being demonized when it comes to weight loss and heart health, to being praised in the low carb community. Once again, there’s an abundance of information on nutrition, particularly regarding dietary fat, which is why we are breaking it all down for you in this post. By the end, we hope that you are able to understand an appropriate amount of fat to eat (on average) daily and what some good sources are.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF DIETARY FAT
There are five main types of fat that can be consumed:
- Monounsaturated fats: Fatty acids that have one double bond (hence the name mono) while the rest of bonds are single bonds. These fats are liquid at room temperature and solidify when refrigerated. These fats are most commonly known for their protection against heart disease and are highlighted in the Mediterranean diet.
- Polyunsaturated fats: Fatty acids that contain two or more double bonds. Omega-3s and omega-6s are two different types of polyunsaturated fats. They are essential, meaning that our bodies cannot produce them, so we must get them from our diet.
- Saturated fats: This particular type of fat has been demonized mainly because most sources are from animals that are high in cholesterol. Hopefully by now you know about the cholesterol myth and understand that the cholesterol we eat has a very small impact on our blood cholesterol numbers. Our bodies produce cholesterol naturally as part of a response to inflammation. Therefore, high cholesterol is typically caused by malfunction in the body, not necessarily the amount of cholesterol from diet. Saturated fat from healthy sources can be very beneficial for your health. These fats are solid at room temperature. Because of their structure, they are also very stable when heated (so they make great cooking fats).
- Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): Made up of medium-chain fatty acids. This type of fat is easily broken down in the body and used as energy. This makes MCTs therapeutic for individuals with malabsorption problems or for those missing a gallbladder. MCTs have also been shown to be beneficial for weight loss.
- Trans fats: Industrial trans fats are created by hydrogenating vegetable oil, which changes it’s structure. This makes the vegetable oil, which is typically liquid at room temperature, become solid at room temperature. Man-made trans fats are considered harmful because they raise total cholesterol, while lowering HDL (aka good) cholesterol. Overall, they are not natural and therefore, not beneficial for our health.
Below is a chart with a recommended breakdown of different types of fat. Overall, the majority of your fat intake should come from monounsaturated fats, then polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and medium chain triglycerides. We recommend getting a minimum of 20% of your total intake from a variety of healthy fats. The exact amount with vary from person to person based on goals and bio-individuality.
DOES FAT MAKE YOU FAT?
The short answer is no. If you eat too much fat then yes, you can gain weight, just like if you eat too much of any macronutrient. Fluctuations in weight are largely due to the total amount of calories you are consuming. We give detailed equations, activity factors, and calorie recommendations based on your goals in this article. We recommend dialing in your overall intake before worrying about the exact breakdown of how much protein, carbs, and fats to eat.
Fat is often looked at as the culprit of eating too many calories because 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories, while 1 gram of carbohydrate or protein only contains 4 calories. The truth is, dietary fat (from natural, quality sources) helps us way more than it could ever hinder us. Fat is crucial to health. It is an essential nutrient- meaning that we cannot live without fat. We need to have a certain amount in order for our bodies to function properly. Fat has various roles in the body:
- Helps us absorb fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K)
- Essential for proper function of our nerves and brain
- Is the building block for hormones
- Is used to create bile acids that allow us to break down fat during digestion
- Fat is part of every cell membrane (outer layer) in the body, which means it helps to transport nutrients across other cell membranes
- Protects our organs
- Is necessary for hair and skin health
- Acts as a long serving energy source
WILL EATING MORE FAT RAISE MY CHOLESTEROL LEVELS?
Fat from healthy sources will not individually raise your cholesterol levels. It’s important to consider the other foods that make up your diet as well as lifestyle habits. When you’re eating a diet that is free of common inflammatory foods (gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, soy, and refined sugars), you are supporting overall health, especially that of the digestive, immune, endocrine, and cardiovascular systems. This will greatly improve overall health.
Serum cholesterol (cholesterol in our blood) is cholesterol that your body makes, which is different from the cholesterol you get from the foods you eat (such as the type found in egg yolks and other animal products). About 25% of our serum cholesterol comes from our diet, and 75% is produced by our livers. Therefore, there is some misinformation when it comes to advice to avoid dietary cholesterol and fat when someone has high serum cholesterol levels. Studies showing correlations with diet and high cholesterol have actually been proven to be very flawed, with false data. In particular, other dietary and lifestyle factors were not taken into account (such as a high stress lifestyle).
In fact, a lot of the cholesterol found in food can’t actually be absorbed by our bodies. Our bodies tightly regulate the amount of cholesterol in the blood by controlling how much is produced by the liver. Typically, when our cholesterol intake goes down, the body will make more because it is such an essential part of a healthy body. Cholesterol is a helpful, healing substance and the body will always manufacture it regardless of how much we are eating.
High serum cholesterol levels are often an issue of inflammation, which correlates with a diet high in processed, refined foods and stress (physical, but also mental/emotional). By eliminating inflammatory foods and including healthy fats and nutrient dense meals, you can improve overall blood lipid levels.
EATING MORE FAT TO LOSE WEIGHT
While some people may be afraid to gain weight when increasing fat intake, research has shown that eating more fat and lowering your carbohydrate intake leads to weight loss. Not only can it help you lose weight, but it can also help you keep it off, even when increasing your total calorie intake. This doesn’t mean that everyone should eat low carb. Each individual must experiment and find what works best for them. We just want to show you that fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat, and eating more of it (especially when getting a variety of sources and eating a nutrient dense diet) can even help you lose weight.
We also want to note that you don’t need to go to any extremes when incorporating more healthy fats into your diet. You can certainly experiment with diets like the ketogenic diet (more on that here), but you can also start by simply adding a healthy fat to your meals and snacks.
FAT INTAKE AND HEART HEALTH
One of the main concerns that commonly comes up regarding fat intake is how it impacts heart health- especially when we are talking about saturated fat. We noted previously that on average, saturated fat intake does not impact serum cholesterol levels. We say “on average” because each person can respond to saturated fat differently based on genetics, digestive health, etc. Long term studies researching saturated fat and heart health show that there is no association between the two.
In terms of nutrition, what we find impacts overall health the most is the amount of inflammatory foods you are eating and the health of your digestive system. You can learn more about how to support digestive health here. If you avoid eating foods that are known to cause inflammation such as gluten, grains, dairy, legumes, soy, and refined sugars, and focus on eating enough nutrient dense foods, you can reduce inflammation, which directly improves overall health. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid these foods forever. We understand that’s not very realistic, but even if you take them out for a short time you can see what foods do and do not work for you. We recommend at least 30 days of eliminating these foods then slowly adding them back in to see how you react (if at all). This information allows you to get to know your body better and take control of your health. If you need help doing this you can utilize our pure paleo meal that you can find here.
Overall, we hope you have learned that fat is your friend and is an extremely important part of a healthy and thriving mind and body. If you’re looking for support with your nutrition we highly recommend considering a Kettlebell Kitchen meal plan.We have several different types to meet your specific needs. We also provide nutrition and education support throughout your time on the plan.