It’s time for another round of nutrition fad vs. fact (fats edition). I polled my Instagram community about the three macronutrients (carbs, protein, and fat). The results were shocking.
- 63% feared carbs
- 53% feared fats
- Only 8% feared protein
Diet culture teaches us that protein is the only “safe” food. In reality, the body needs fats and carbs (in large quantities) to thrive.
This article is part of a nutrition fad vs. fact series, which debunks nutrition myths! If you haven’t started with the first article, begin here: Nutrition Fad vs. Fact: Carbs. Otherwise, let’s jump into demystifying 3 common nutrition fads about fats.
Fats: The Basics
Dietary fats are an essential nutrient to give your body energy and support cell growth. Fats help:
- Absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A,E,D,K) (1)
- Support healthy cell membranes (2)
- Promote satiety (aka. fullness) because they take longer to digest (3)
- Provide a protective layer for internal organs
- Regulate body temperature (aka. Keep you warm)
For these reasons alone, it is clear fat intake is crucial for metabolism and optimal health.
Nutrition Fad vs. Fact: Fats
There was the low-fat craze of the 90s and now the high-fat craze with keto. Talk about confusion! It leaves us with mixed messages around a key nutrient. Let’s cut through the noise together.
Fad #1: High-fat foods are unhealthy.
Have you been told to avoid high-fat foods? If you’ve ever followed a low-fat diet, you were probably taught to buy the “low-fat” or “fat-free” products wherever possible.
But fat-free doesn’t always mean “healthy” and high-fat doesn’t equate to “unhealthy”. Better yet, let’s strip away these labels altogether.
Doing away with foods high-fat foods would mean passing on nutrient-dense foods like salmon, tuna, avocado, nuts (nut butter), and seeds. You wouldn’t label salmon as unhealthy, would you?
Additionally, many “fat-free” products have added sugar to make up for the lack of fat. This leads to a spike in blood sugar, and no dietary fat to help slow down the digestion of sugar. You feel a sugar buzz, but lack fullness.
Pay attention to this next time you eat yogurt. Does the higher fat yogurt leave you feeling more full and satisfied as compared to the low-fat, higher sugar variety?
It’s recommended to include dietary fats as a part of a balanced plate for better blood sugar stability and increased feelings of fullness.
Fact: Just because a food is high-fat, doesn’t mean it’s unhealthy. In fact, many high-fat foods have nutrient-dense qualities like salmon, avocado, and walnuts.
Fad #2: Fats increase cholesterol.
Some fats are actually beneficial for heart health. Omega-3 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fat, helps to lower total cholesterol. The body can’t make omega-3 fatty acids on its own, thus it must come from food. Foods rich in omega-3s include salmon, tuna, seeds (hemp, chia, flax), and some eggs.
Monounsaturated fats have also been linked to better heart health. These fats help by boosting HDL, the “good” cholesterol. Foods high in monounsaturated fats include olives, olive oil, nuts, nut butter, and my personal favorite…avocado.
Have you ever worried that adding avocado and dressing to your salad is just calories added? Next time you fear this, change out the language you use to describe fat. Tell yourself that it’s nutrients added!
As for saturated fats, not all saturated fat is created equal in terms of nutrient properties and more research is indicating that it’s not as “bad” as once believed (4).
Fact: Two types of fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are shown to help reduce cholesterol and improve overall heart health.
Fad #3: Fats lead to weight gain.
We can’t scrutinize one macronutrient as the culprit for weight gain. In fact, eating too much of any macronutrient could lead to weight gain.
At this point, you’re probably wondering, “well how do I include fats in my diet without eating too much?”
The exact amount of fat you need depends on your age, lifestyle, activity level, and genetics. I go into this in greater detail with my 1:1 clients. If you’re interested in learning more, set up your free discovery call so we can discuss your unique nutrition needs.
Sure, there are suggested serving sizes for fat, but those are never one-size-fits-all. That’s why inside my coaching programs, I teach you skills on how to build a balanced plate (that includes fats) and tools to help you listen to your body as a guide.
If you still feel fearful that fat could be causing you to gain weight, check out this article: What is My Set Point Weight?
Fact: Including fat as a part of a balanced diet does not lead to weight gain. However, if you’ve gained weight as a result of adding any macronutrient (fats, protein, or carbs) in an effort to nourish and respect your body, maybe your body needed that weight gain.
The Bottom Line on Fats
Your body and brain need fats, just like it needs protein and carbs.
What nutrition fads or trends do you have questions about? Email me at email@example.com, and I will include your request in an upcoming nutrition fad vs. fact article!