I think it’s safe to say that fats are by far the nutrient we battle with the most. Simply put, nobody wants to get fat from eating too much fat. However, we do need some fats in our diet – they regulate body temperature, protect our organs from injury, aid in vitamin absorption, aid in growth and development and are an important source of energy for our bodies at rest, so we can’t avoid them completely! Most North Americans do eat within the acceptable range for fat, BUT we are not eating the right TYPES of fat. Uh oh!
There are three general types of fatty acids:
- Usually solids at room temperature
- E.g. butter, bacon, cream cheese, coconut oil & cream, sour cream, chocolate (GASP!)
- Saturated fats cause a rise in our LDL cholesterol (the bad artery-clogging one) – Yiiiiiikes!
- We need to DECREASE our intake of saturated fats
- Improve our blood cholesterol levels
- Usually liquid at room temperature
- E.g. canola oil, olives & olive oil, avocado, sesame seeds, oil in nuts
- We need to INCREASE our intake of monounsaturated fats
- Usually liquid form at room temperature
- Help prevent blood clots and lower LDL cholesterol
- E.g. safflower oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, non-hydrogenated margarine
- We need to INCREASE our intake of polyunsaturated fats
Where does all the saturated fat in our diet come from?
Meat products are generally quite fatty, but look at how big of a culprit added fat is! Added fat comes from frying foods, breading on chicken, drowning your potatoes in butter and gravy, buying pre-packaged foods packed with preservatives etc. It makes my arteries cringe just thinking about it! We need to work on cutting down on saturated fats and increase the good fats. Here are some tips to help get you eating more of the right fats:
- The recommended range of daily fat intake is 20-35% of your total calories
- Choose soybean, canola, corn, olive, safflower and sunflower oils to cook with. I don’t cook with oil much as a student, but I use olive oil for everything when I do.
- Decrease the amount of mayonnaise, butter, margarine, and sour cream you eat.
- If you simply must by prepackaged or processed foods, look for reduced-fat, low-fat and fat-free versions
- Choose lean meats and poultry. Remove all visible skin and fat before cooking
- STAY AWAY from cold cuts (these are FULL of fat and sodium. I think back to how often I ate cold cuts as a kid and I’m disgusted now. Blech) and go easy on the bacon and sausage. Bacon and eggs every day for breakfast? Not such a good idea. The only time I eat bacon anymore is once a year on Christmas morning. And you know what, I really don’t mind. Yes, bacon is delicious, but as I see the grease coming off it while cooking and taste the salt, I appreciate eating it just once a year 🙂
Essential fats are particularly important in our diet. An essential nutrient is one that MUST be obtained from our diet, because our body does NOT make it. That is why it is important that we be so conscious of our omega-3 and omega-6 fat intake.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- Precursor to compounds that regulate functions like blood pressure and blood clotting
- Are polyunsaturated fats (good fat!)
- Found primarily in vegetable oils but also in meat
- Omega-6 fatty acids are an ESSENTIAL nutrient – we must obtain it from our diet!
- Good news! – We already consume tons of omega-6’s! 😀
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Metabolized in the body to compounds that decrease inflammation, decrease blood clotting and triglycerides and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease
- Are also polyunsaturated fats
- Found in dark green leafy veggies, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, vegetable oils, fish and fish oils
- BAD NEWS – We DO NOT consume enough omega-3’s! 🙁
The somewhat better news is that there are a lot of foods that are now fortified with omega-3’s to help us get closer to the recommended intake. Omega-3 fortified foods include eggs, orange juice, milk and bread.
How do I get more Omega-3’s in my diet?
- You can choose to buy omega-3-fortified eggs, orange juice, yogurt or bread.
- Enjoy a handful of walnuts. One quarter cup of walnuts contains 90% of the daily recommended intake of omega-3 fatty acid!
- Incorporate fish into your diet 2-3 times a week.
- Add flaxseed or flaxseed oil into your baking or even into a smoothie.
Do not fear fat! We NEED fat to live, just like we need sunshine and fresh air. That being said, it is best to consume more plant sources of fat in our diets, and decrease animal sources, as well as processed and already-prepared foods. Animal fats give approximately 40-60% of their energy from saturated fats, and plants give 80-90% of their energy from mono & polyunsaturated fats.
We also need to be cognizant of our essential fatty acids intake to help keep our heart healthy. Fish is an exceptional food as it meets all these requirements. Eating fish at least twice a week not only helps to increase your omega-3 intake, but also helps to reduce high blood pressure and plaque formation in the arteries! Now that’s what I call a win-win situation!
Read more about fat, it’s function and related fat myths in my post The Skinny on Fat.