By Lucia Weiler RD PHEc for Made Good Foods
What are dietary fats?
Fat is one of the three main macronutrients, along with two others: carbohydrate and protein. A macronutrient is something we need in relatively large amounts to be healthy.
Fats and oils describe compounds that usually don’t dissolve in water. Fats can also be grouped into visible and invisible types. Visible fats are apparent in butter, lard, margarine and oils. Invisible fats you may not be able to see readily and are found in foods like meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds and prepared foods.
Fat is perhaps the most misunderstood energy source required by the body. To choose the healthiest fats let’s look at different foods and the types of fats they contain so you can make the best selection among them. This is especially important when following a high fat / low carbohydrate diet like the ketogenic or keto diet.
Why is fat important?
Fat is a source of energy and all fats provide fuel for the body in a concentrated form. Fat also helps with the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K. Fat is a component of cell walls and helps keep skin and hair healthy. Fat insulates our bodies, protects organs against shock and helps maintain body temperate. Humans also need essential fats that our bodies cannot make. Essential fat like Omega 3’s have many health benefits including lowering the risk of heart disease. Last but not least, fat enhances flavour and texture of food that adds enjoyment to eating.
The key is to understand how to choose the right amount of each type of fat, so we should look closely at the science behind the different types of fat.
Different types of fats & impact on health
The two main different types of fats are saturated and unsaturated.
Saturated fats are rigid structures and as a result tend to be solid at room temperature. Saturated fats should be limited in a healthy diet.
Unsaturated fats are flexible structures and tend to be liquid at room temperature. Unsaturated fats are considered “healthy fats” and include both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats (or fatty acids). Omega 3 polyunsaturated fats are essential fats and must come from the diet.
All fats and oils in food contain a mixture of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids in differing proportions. The key for healthy eating is to choose fats and oils that have the highest proportion of healthy unsaturated fats. For example, vegetable oils contain mostly unsaturated fats with very little saturated fat and are liquid at room temperature. A significant amount of saturated fat is generally found in animal and dairy fats as well as vegetable fats from coconut, palm and palm kernel oils. These fats remain solid at room temperature and are called hard fats.
Best bets in fats¹Include the healthiest fats in your diet. These are the polyunsaturated fats, especially the essential omega-3 unsaturates which are found in foods like fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, arctic char and trout), flaxseed, enriched eggs and walnuts.
Enjoy monounsaturated fats which are also good fats. These healthy fats are naturally found in foods such as olive oil, avocados, seeds, and nuts like almonds, pistachios, pecans and cashews. The makers of GOODTO GO leverage the good fats in almonds by using almond flour as the first ingredient in the bars.
Reduce saturated fat and eliminate trans fat. Saturated fats are naturally found in foods from animals such as fatty cuts of meat, poultry with the skin on and higher fat milk, cheese and yogurt. Saturated fat is also found in oils such as coconut and palm kernel oils. Trans fat is an unhealthy fat used in some commercially baked goods, snacks & fried foods.
In Canada and the USA you can read food labels for fat quality, and use the percent daily value (% DV) on the nutrition facts table to help you make informed food choices.² The % DV is found on the right-hand side of a nutrition facts table and shows you if the serving size has a little or a lot of a nutrient. A good tip is to remember that 5% DV or less is a little, while 15% DV or more is a lot – and this applies to all nutrients with a % DV. Consider choosing foods that are lower in the nutrients you may want less of.
¹ Dietitians of Canada (2018) Facts on Fats Available at http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Heart-Health/Facts-on-Fats.aspx
² Health Canada (2019) Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/percent-daily-value.html