Nutrition 101: Fats

By Annette Demeny

Welcome to the third part of my mini-series, Nutrition 101. This week we will learn all the good and bad about Fats. If you haven’t read part one or two, click on Calories and Carbohydrates to learn more! Here’s the skinny on fats…


The confusion about fats is probably one of the most notorious topics in nutrition and can be quite complicated. Until recently, fats were mostly recognized as the root for obesity and heart disease. But now, the dialog has shifted to how certain fats are key nutrients for the brain, hormones and even weight loss.


What is fat exactly?

Fats are one of the three major macronutrients , protein and carbohydrates being the other two. Unlike protein and carbohydrates that each contain 4 calories per gram, fat has 9 calories per gram and provide more energy than the other two macronutrients. They are absorbed and digested slowest in your body therefore, keeping you full for a longer period of time. Other interesting facts about fat:

  • 60% of your brain is made of fat
  • Provides cushioning for your organs
  • Are building blocks for hormones
  • A great carrier for vitamins and minerals such as; Vitamin A, D, E, and K

There are four main types of dietary fat listed on food labels: saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and trans fats. Some of which are beneficial and some of which may have negative impacts on health and should be limited. Let’s break them down.


Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are largely known as the “unhealthy” fat and are solid at room temperature. Most sources of saturated fats in the modern diet come from highly processed foods and baked goods. In addition to these sources, saturated fats can be found:

  • Animal meats, like beef, poultry, pork, and egg yolks, and processed meats (bologna, sausages, hot dogs, and bacon)
  • Coconut oil
  • Palm kernel oil
  • Dairy products, including cheese, butter, and milk

Is saturated fat bad for you? A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 5-6% of your daily calories. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day.

Healthier sources of saturated fats are pastured-fed beef and poultry, coconut and free-range eggs.


Monounsaturated Fats

Monounsaturated fat is one of the good guys. It differs from saturated fats by having fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains. “Mono” meaning single (one) carbon-to-carbon double bond therefore, are liquid at room temperature, not solid.

This type of fat makes up a substantial component of the  Mediterranean diet. Studies have shown the Mediterranean diet, when supplemented with monounsaturated fats like extra-virgin olive oil, may help prevent the incidence of adverse events related to cardiovascular disease.

“Olive oil is not the only healthy plant-based oil, but it is the one most often used in the Blue Zones (world’s longest-lived people) diet. Evidence shows that olive oil consumption increases good cholesterol and lowers bad cholesterol.” ~ Dan Buettner

Good sources of monounsaturated fat:

  • Olive oil
  • Nuts: macadamia nuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios, brazil nuts
  • Olives
  • Peanut Butter
  • Avocado

Although there’s no recommended daily intake of monounsaturated fats, the Institute of Medicine recommends using them as much as possible along with polyunsaturated fats to replace saturated and trans fats.


Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them. So, you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.

A polyunsaturated fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.

There are three main types of omega-3s:

  • DHA and EPA – found in marine (seafood) sources
  • ALA – found in plant sources (vegetables and algae)

Good sources of omega -3:

  • Flaxseed
  • Chia Seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Fatty Fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines, trout) Always choose “wild caught” fish instead of “farmed raised”. To read the reasons why, click here.
  • Leafy greens – kale, spinach
  • Blue green algae
  • High quality supplements

Omega-6 fatty acids are a type of essential fat that plays an important role in your overall health, when consumed in moderation.

Good sources of omega-6 include:

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Hempseed oil, hemp seeds
  • Seeds such as pumpkin and raw sunflower
  • Nuts, including pignolia (pine) and pistachios
  • Acai
  • Eggs

It’s important to note ~ consume plenty of omega-3 fatty acids to maintain a beneficial balance of omega-3 /omega-6 ratio in your diet.


Trans Fats

Artificial trans fats is a form of unsaturated fat created through an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is “partially hydrogenated oils.” In November 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made a preliminary determination that partially hydrogenated oils are no longer Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in human food.

If they are so unhealthy, then why use them? Trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. They give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers.

Trans fats can be found in many foods – including fried foods like doughnuts, and baked goods including cakes, pie crusts, biscuits, frozen pizza, cookies, crackers, stick margarines, shortening, non-diary creamers and vegetable oils.

**FACT** Low levels of trans fats naturally occur in meat and dairy products.

This form of fat is associated with a number of negative health effects such as; heart disease, inflammation, and high cholesterol. The best way to avoid trans fats are to limit your intake of processed and fried fast foods, read labels when shopping for your groceries (avoid foods with “partially hydrogenated oils”), and eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and lean protein.



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We can talk about fats for hours! What questions do you have?





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