Healthy vs. Unhealthy Fat
Written by Madi Hahn, Dietetics Student
Fat is a crucial component of every diet. It is one of the 3 main macronutrients, meaning it is grouped with Carbohydrates and Protein in importance and caloric intake. Fat should make up about 20-35% of your caloric intake per day. It is the most dense in calories compared to the other 2 macronutrients, with 9 calories per gram ingested.
Hence, fat has wrongfully received a bad name within the public regardless of the important role it plays in our health and diet. Fat is responsible for functions such as absorption of nutrients, production of hormones, regulation of body temperature, protection of vital organs, and, of course, energy!
While fat plays a key role in the diet, it is important to note the difference between healthier fats which favor heart health with fats that shouldn’t be consumed as often keeping health in mind. Saturated fats are fats that should be limited and are known to raise LDL, or ‘bad cholesterol’ levels in the blood. High amounts of LDL are known to increase risk of heart disease and stroke. Hence, saturated fats should be limited to less than 10% of a person’s calories per day.
Examples of saturated fats: Butter, full-fat and high-fat meats, yogurt, full-fat cheese
Another type of unhealthy fat that falls into this category are called trans or ‘hydrogenated’ fats, which are formed by the addition of hydrogen to vegetable oils in order to ‘saturate’ the fat. Trans fats are no longer allowed in the U.S. due to its dangerous health effects and links to raised cholesterol and heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are fats that should be prioritized over saturated fats in the diet. They can be broken down into two categories: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are often found in vegetable oils and nuts, and polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish. Polyunsaturated fats include Omega-3s and Omega-6s, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and may also have links to increased cognitive function, decreased prostate cancer risk, and relieving inflammatory disease. All unsaturated fats are crucial to health due to their ‘heart-healthy’ benefits.
Examples of unsaturated fats: Avocado, peanut butter, nuts, olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, soybean oil, walnuts, flaxseed, pumpkin seed
The Bottom Line
Fat is an important component of the diet and should not be avoided at any costs. In the best interest of health, specifically heart health, it is recommended to prioritize unsaturated fats in the diet and limit excessive amounts of saturated fats. You can do so by choosing lean meats if you eat meat and opting for unsaturated substitutions like using avocado oil to cook and eating fatty fish like salmon about twice a week.