All About Fats: Why You Need Them in Your Diet

Fat plays a vital role in nutrition + health
Putting avPutting avacado on sandwich a healthy fat source

So you’ve always looked for low-fat and non-fat options at the grocery store ― especially when you’re on a diet. It turns out this really isn’t the best way to lose weight. In this Q&A, dietitian Lindsay Malone, MS, RD, LD, gives the straight scoop about fats.

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Q. What role do fats play in my diet?

A: Fats play a vital role in your nutrition and health by:

  • Helping you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K.
  • Increasing satiety ― that feeling of being full and satisfied so you don’t over eat.
  • Reducing the glycemic impact of a meal or snack so your blood sugar doesn’t spike and lead to a crash (and feeling tired) when it falls.

Q. Where can I find healthy fats?

A: Healthy fats are found in whole/unprocessed plant foods like avocados, coconuts, nuts and seeds (including nut and seed butters) as well as animal foods, including meat, poultry, fish and dairy. Oils that are minimally processed can be a healthy source of fat as well, and whole grains such as brown rice, wheat and oatmeal have small amounts of healthy fat too.

Q. What should I look for when shopping?

A: Look for those unprocessed foods that are whole ― or refined as little as possible. This includes:

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Q. How much fat do I need each day?

A: Everyone is different, but getting around 30% of your calories from fats is a good place for most people. Fat should be eaten with every meal. As noted, it provides that feeling of fullness, transports your vitamins and also lowers the glycemic impact of the meal ― this means it reduces the impact on blood sugar.

For a woman, a day’s worth of fat intake might look like this:

  • A sprinkling of ground flax or chia seeds in a smoothie in the morning.
  • A few small handfuls of nuts as a snack.
  • Two to three spoons of an olive oil-based dressing on a salad with lunch.
  • 3 to 4 ounces of wild salmon in the evening.

Q. Do you have any interesting ways to incorporate fat into my diet?

A: Here are some ideas:

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  • In addition to eating nuts and seeds for snacks, put them on salads or in your oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Spread nut butters on apples, celery or rice cakes and use them to make cooking sauces.
  • Cube avocado for salads or whip it to use as a replacement for mayonnaise on sandwiches. You can also put avocado in smoothies to add creaminess and thickness and cut down on the sugar content.
  • Make a healthy guacamole (avocado, tomato and olive oil) and put it on veggies such as peppers, carrots, celery and on salads, in rice bowls and stir fries.

Q. What oils should I cook with?

A: Note that oils suitable for cooking at both high and low temps include extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, coconut oil, rice bran and sesame oils. It is better not to cook with almond, flax, pumpkin, safflower and sunflower oils as these are healthier eaten at room temperature.

Q. Do all fats have the same number of calories?

A: Fats do have more calories than carbohydrates and proteins. Every gram of fat has nine calories, which makes them more energy dense. Carbohydrates and proteins have four calories per gram. So get your fats, but manage caloric intake. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest.

Q. Is there anything I should avoid?

A: It’s important to avoid trans fats altogether, which raise LDL, the bad cholesterol, in your blood. These are often found in processed foods, including bakery, snack foods and fast foods. If the packaging says partially hydrogenated oil, it has trans fat.

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