Fats Won't Make You Fat

The body needs fats to function. Yet most people think fats are unhealthy and make them gain weight. The key is to have adequate amounts of healthy fats in your diet. In this article, you'll learn what are healthy fats and how much you should eat.

Key takeaways:

Benefits of fats

Contrary to common belief, not all fats are unhealthy. In fact, essential for the body fats have a number of health benefits:

  • Gives you energy. 1 gram of fat provides 9 kcal.
  • Help absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. This includes vitamins A, D, E, and K.
  • Warmth. Keeps your body warm.
  • Hormones. Has a role in hormone production.
  • Cells. Are essential for the cell's function.

Fats are found in animal and plant foods. Dietary fat sources include meats, dairy, oils, nuts, seeds, and cooked and packaged foods. Not all fat sources are equally beneficial to your health. Fats are categorized into two main groups: healthy fats and unhealthy fats.

Types of healthy fats

Although all fats provide the same calories per gram, their health effects differ. According to the Academy of Nutrition, in general, 20% to 35% of your total daily calories should come from healthy fats.

Healthy fats help modulate cholesterol levels for the better. Cholesterol has an essential role in the body, including cell function, hormones, and vitamin production.

However, having too much cholesterol may clog the blood vessels, which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. Eating healthy fats helps increase HDL (good cholesterol) and decrease LDL (bad cholesterol). Let's look into two main categories of healthy fats:

Monounsaturated fats

According to the American Heart Association, the majority of dietary fat should come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fat sources are:

  • Olives and olive oil;
  • Canola oil;
  • Safflower oil;
  • Avocados;
  • Nuts including cashews, almonds, pecans, and peanuts;
  • Peanut butter and peanut oil.

Polyunsaturated fats

Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats. They both improve blood cholesterol levels and promote the function of a healthy heart. Our bodies can't make omega-3, so we have to get it from foods. Omega-3 has many health benefits besides its cholesterol-lowering effects. It supports a healthy brain and nervous system.

Omega-3 sourcesOmega-6 sources
Oily fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, troutVegetable oils, including sunflower, rapeseed, and corn oils
Canola and flaxseed oilsTofu
Flaxseeds, chia and hemp seedsPeanut butter
WalnutsSome nuts, including walnuts and almonds

Types of unhealthy fats

Fats have a bad reputation. Most people think eating fat makes them gain weight. This can be true on some occasions in which they eat unhealthy fats or healthy fats in excess amounts. Yes, even healthy fats can make you gain weight if you eat more than you should. Therefore, moderation is the key in the case of fats, too.

Saturated and trans fats are categorized as unhealthy fats because they may contribute to health problems if eaten above limits.

Saturated fats

The majority of saturated fats come from animal foods and processed and packaged foods. Some plant foods (such as palm and coconut oils ) are also sources of saturated fats.

Consuming excess amounts of saturated fats may increase bad cholesterol levels and heart disease risk. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fats to 5% to 6% of total calories. In the case of consumption of 2,000 calories, the daily intake of saturated fats should not exceed 13 grams.

Saturated fats are found in:

  • Meat, meat products such as sausages, and fat in meats;
  • Dairy: cheeses, milk, cream;
  • Butter;
  • Ice cream and its products;
  • Palm oil;
  • Coconut oil;
  • Coconut cream;
  • Packaged foods, including cheese crackers, biscuits, and cakes.

Trans fats

Highly-processed packaged foods, margarines, and shortening contain trans fat. Animal products contain lesser amounts of naturally occurring trans fat as well. You should avoid trans fat as much as possible since it increases bad cholesterol and decreases good cholesterol.

Don't forget to check the labels. Look for the terms used for replacement as trans fat: 'partially hydrogenated' oils, 'saturates,' and 'sat fat.'

You checked it, and it contains trans fat. Now, you can look at the amount of trans fat it has. How much is trans fat too much? Let's look at the fat contents of fat-free, low-fat, and high-fat foods provided by the UK National Health Service.

Total fatsSaturated fats
Fat-free ≤ 0.5 g≤ 0.1 g
Low-fat≤ 3 g≤ 1.5 g
High-fat≥ 17.5 g≥ 5 g

The amount is given per 100 g of food.

How about 'lower fat' foods?

How about 'lower fat' foods? If the label says it is lower fat, light, lite, or reduced fat, the product contains less than 30% fat compared to similar products. Therefore, 'lower fat' foods can contain more than ≥ 17.5 g of total fat per 100 g. In that case, it is high-fat food even though it is labeled as 'lower fat' food.

You should check the overall nutritional values of foods. Because low-fat content in some packaged foods may be compensated with high sugar, thus calories. Healthy nutrition is a balance of all nutrients. You should pay attention to other unhealthy ingredients as well as unhealthy fats.

Healthy and balanced nutrition should include healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and limit unhealthy fats (saturated and trans fat). Eating healthy fats can improve your cholesterol levels and heart health.

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