Dietary advice on fat is controversial, especially when it comes to the role of different fats in heart disease. Experts disagree about recommendations and current evidence, which can make individuals confused about what to eat. When it comes to fat and eating a healthy diet, it’s important to have a balanced approach and ensure there are no major restrictions being made on any of our major food groups, fat included.
Macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein) are nutrients that provide calories or energy and are needed in large amounts. Fat is a highly concentrated source of energy and provides 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein provide 4 calories per gram. The adult Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (amdr) for fat is 20 to 35 per cent of calories. Athletes should aim to have no more than 25 per cent of their daily calories coming from fat since it allows for more carbohydrates and protein to be consumed to satisfy energy needs.
Why is fat important? Fat adds flavour. It also adds consistency and stability to foods and slows down digestion in order to curb our appetites for a longer time in between meals. Fat helps to absorb certain vitamins (A, D, E, K and carotenoids). Fat is essential for survival and there is lack of sufficient evidence indicating a very low fat diet will reduce disease risk or is sustainable long term.
What are the different types of fat? Fat is found in meat, poultry, nuts, milk products, butters and margarines, oils, fish and grain products. There are three main types:
• Saturated “bad” fats are found in full fat animal products: meat, butter, cheese and certain plant oils such as palm and palm kernel oil and coconut oil.
• Trans “bad” fats are partially hydrogenated and are found in baked goods, snack foods and fried foods.
• Unsaturated “good” fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, are primarily found in plant foods such as vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, soybean, safflower and corn), nuts, seeds and oily fish. Polyunsaturated fats are divided into Omega-3 and Omega-6 and are essential fats, meaning they are needed for metabolic processes but our bodies cannot make them therefore we need to obtain these from our diet. Why are Omega-3 fatty acids important? Diets high in omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower the rates of cardiovascular disease. The best sources come from high-fat coldwater fish like salmon, trout, sardines, anchovies and Arctic char. Aim to have at least two servings (3 oz.) per week of fatty fish. The best vegetarian sources include flaxseed and flaxseed oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts, soybeans and soybean oil.
Is saturated fat bad for you?
The short answer is yes. Research suggests that replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats can reduce the risk of heart disease. The key take home message is to ensure that saturated fat is replaced with healthy fats and not refined carbohydrates since refined carbohydrates can be equally as bad for our health compared to saturated fat.
The bottom line
It is the type of fat that we choose to consume that is the most important for overall health. Aim to have the majority of fat calories coming from “good” sources of fat and steer clear of dietary advice that recommends cutting out complete food groups. Replace solid fats with liquid ones by ditching the butter and reaching for the bottle of olive oil. Choose a piece of baked salmon instead of a steak and avoid all sources of trans fats.