How do you know if a fat is a good fat or a bad fat?   Today we’re digging into the facts to answer those burning questions about fats!

First, the facts.  Dietary fat is an energy dense source of calories – it provides 9 calories per gram, or twice the calories provided by carbs or protein.  While dietary fat should be consumed at a moderate amount, it should never be completely eliminated from your diet.  

Our bodies use fat in a number of important ways:

  • Prolongs fullness after a meal – Fat helps slow digestion and stomach emptying.
  • Improves mouth-feel – Ever had stringy/chalky fat-free cheese or dry baked goods?  Yuck!  Fat improves the mouth-feel or texture of many products, including cheese.
  • Transports Nutrients – Ever heard of fat-soluble vitamins A,D,E, and K?  These nutrients need fat for transport through the body.
  • Provides protection – Stored body fat provides insulation and cushions organs

Types of Dietary Fat

There are several types of dietary fat – some you should eat more of, and some you should eat a little less off.  

Unsaturated Fat – Always!

There are two types of unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats are liquid at room temperature and are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, a majority of the dietary fats you eat should come from sources that contain primarily unsaturated fats.

  • Sources of Monounsaturated Fat
    • Olive Oil
    • Canola Oil
    • Safflower Oil
    • Sesame Oil
    • Avocados
  • Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat
    • Omega 3’s
    • Ground flaxseed (seeds will go undigested)
    • Walnuts
    • Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, trout, herring)
    • Canola oil
    • Omega 6’s
    • Liquid vegetable oils (soybean, corn, safflower)

Saturated Fat – Sometimes…

Saturated fat is solid at room temperature and may raise your risk for cardiovascular disease by contributing to plaque accumulation in the arteries. Try limitng intake of saturated fats to less than 10% of your daily calories (15g in a 1,500 cal diet). Or, if you’re not tracking calories, limit baked goods/bacon/fatty meats to 2-3 times per week.

  • Sources of Saturated Fat
    • Butter/margarine/shortening (baked goods)
    • High fat meats (beef, pork)
    • Milk/cheese
    • Coconut and palm oils

Trans Fat – AVOID!

Trans fats are solid at room temperature after undergoing a chemical process call “hydrogenation.”  Hydrogenation basically turns unsaturated “healthy” fats into a more solid, shelf stable product. Unfortunately, consuming trans fats can do some really nasty things to cholesterol levels (raising the “bad” LDL and lowering the “good” HDL). To decrease your risk for cardiovascular disease and prevent weight gain, its best to avoid products with trans fats or limit to one serving per week.

  • Trans Fat Sources
    • Margarine/shortening
    • Cookies (including Oreos!)
    • Fried Foods (French fries, fried chicken)
    • Pie Crust
    • Packaged frosting/icing

How Much Fat Do I Need per Day?

15-35% of calories should come from fat. For general healthy eating, 20-35% of calories should come from fat. However, physique/bikini competitors may dip lower than the general guidelines when preparing for a show to provide room for adequate protein. No more than 10% of calories should come from saturated fat and no more than 1% of calories should come from trans fats.

Remember, fat is calorically dense so it’s easy to overeat!  Whether you are tracking calories or not, always measure the appropriate serving size of nut butters, oils, and avocados. While these foods are good for you, eating them too much may still lead to weight gain!

Common Misconceptions About Fat

1) Eating fat will make me gain weight

The Real Deal – Eating TOO MUCH fat resulting in eating TOO MANY calories will result in weight gain.  However, eating moderate amounts of fat will not result in weight gain as long as your calories are appropriate.

2) Unsaturated fat provides less calories than saturated or trans fats

The Real Deal – Nope! All fats, no matter the source, provide 9 calories per gram. The health difference between each type is primarily related to the impact on cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease.

Keep in Mind:

Unsaturated Fat

  • Increases good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Decreases bad cholesterol (LDL)

Saturated Fat

  • Increases good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Increases bad cholesterol (LDL)

Trans Fat –  Double Whammy!

  • Decreases good cholesterol (HDL)
  • Increases bad cholesterol (LDL)

What’s the Bottom Line?

Fat is calorically dense but an essential nutrient.  Fat keeps us full, improves texture of foods, and helps transport nutrients throughout the body.  Remember to enjoy unsaturated fats most of the time, saturated fats sometimes, and try to avoid trans fats. ALL types of fat provide 9 calories per gram – the health difference is related to the fat’s effect on cardiovascular health.  Eating fat won’t result in weight gain, but overeating calories will.

Questions?  Want to learn more?  CoreLife is here to help!

Questions about protein?  Our CoreLife Registered Dietitians are here to help!  Contact your local CoreLife office or visit us on Facebook @corelifemd.

Megan Lautz, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT

Author Megan Lautz, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT

More posts by Megan Lautz, MS, RDN, LDN, CPT

Leave a Reply