By: Kristi Goode
The belief that eating fat makes you fat has been around for some time. So, is it true? Or just a belief? First, fats are essential, and we need them to carry out certain bodily functions. Your body stores fat mainly from “excess” calories. If a calorie excess is available, even if those calories are from carbs or protein, your body is fully capable of turning them into fat for storage. Think about energy balance. In order to maintain your weight, calories in should equal calories out. Therefore, eating fat does not make you fat. But! Eating the wrong kind of fat or eating too much fat, can make you fat.
Fats are crucial for life. Fat aids our bodies' proper functioning in several ways:
The primary function of fat is energy storage.
Fat helps maintain healthy cell and organ function. It plays a protective role for cells because it’s an important component of every cell’s membrane or cell wall and protects against invaders.
Fats help you to feel full and help maintain blood sugar balance.
Fats carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K through the bloodstream.
Fats insulate and provide protective padding to internal organs
Something interesting about fat is that when we take in excess carbohydrates and/or protein, they can be turned to fat and stored as energy. Basically, our bodies can make fat even if we don’t consume it! On the other hand, our bodies also burn fat for energy. When you’re in a calorie deficit, for a period of time, fat breakdown occurs. Not only does the body burn fat during a calorie deficit, but also during typical day-to-day activities. Fat burning occurs when you participate in low-intensity exercises, and while sitting in front of the computer, walking the dog, or during housework. Fat serves as your body’s primary source of fuel, during activity where your heart rate is less than 70% of its maximal rate.
When it comes to our health, not all fats are created equal. Fat can be found in a variety of foods and meals, either naturally or because of processing and cooking. Dairy, meat, fish, nuts and seeds, oil, and avocados are all good sources of naturally occurring fats. Processed and packaged foods are high in added fats, or trans fats. You may think that eating low fat and nonfat foods saves calories, low-fat and nonfat foods tend to include additional fillers and additives to compensate for the lack of flavor. And sugar is a very common additive!
How to build a plate with healthy fats:
Choose meat and dairy in moderation. While they certainly have a role in any balanced diet, they shouldn’t make up most of your intake due to being a bit higher in saturated fat. Enjoy them paired with plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Choose a balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fats. Both fats play a role in keeping inflammation in check, so it’s important we get a better balance between both omega-6 and omega-3 fats. These include avocados, walnuts, olive oil, coconut oil, flax and chia seeds, nuts, nut butters, olives, salmon, tuna, dark chocolate, sunflower seeds, eggs, and full fat dairy.
Combine fats with a nutrient dense protein or carb sources. Eating fats along with foods rich in fat-soluble vitamins and minerals allows your body to better absorb them. A good example: Use high-fat salad dressing to aid in absorption of the vitamins and minerals from the vegetables in your salad or a pair an apple or banana with peanut butter or full fat yogurt.
In the end, fat is needed for a healthy body. Understanding how to optimize your fat intake with nutrient dense fats will only make constructing a nutrient-dense, well-balanced diet easier. Remember that fat isn't awful in and of itself. You'll be closer to your weight loss objectives if you focus on creating a diet that you truly like to eat, keeping it within a fair number of calories, and adding physical activity. Don’t look for low fat or low-calorie options as they only contain fillers and not the fat that is needed for your hormonal health and energy stores.