Fat- The “uncool” macronutrient

By:Lisa Millar, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, BA, ECE


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Kendra from Ottawa asks:
After reading your article about sugars, I would like to understand more about good fats and bad fats. What are trans and saturated fats? What are good fats?

Well, first of all, I think it should be renamed.

The connotation of the word “fat” evokes a negative image in people’s minds. It is not good, not good at all. No wonder it is the ugly duckling of the food world. We are constantly trying to reduce our intake of it, hide it, or banish it all together. But why? Are we ashamed of someone seeing us slathering a piece of bread with loads of butter? You bet we are.

But here are the facts. There are different types of fat, and NOT all of them are bad for us. Some fat is GOOD for us. Please repeat after me- some fat is good, not all fat is bad. (Thanks for playing along,lol)

There are good fats. These are unsaturated fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (which is broken down even further into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids). Unsaturated fat remains liquid at room temperature, is found mainly in oils from plants, and is heart healthy (may decrease/ improve cholesterol levels). Think of foods like: avocado, nuts and seeds, olive oil and salmon.

There are fats that are good in moderation. These are saturated fats. They are solid at room temperature, found mainly in animal foods, and can increase your cholesterol levels if we indulge in them too often. Optimally, we should only consume 5% of our total daily caloric intake from these types of fats. Butter, coconut oil, and beef are sources of saturated fat. The good news is that they are safer to cook with. (This means that they are chemically stable when heated as opposed to unsaturated fats).

Trans fats are not good for us. These hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats are used to increase the shelf life of food products in grocery stores. They are found in processed foods, snack foods (cookies and chips), some margarine and salad dressings, and foods made with shortening and partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats can increase your LDL/bad cholesterol and decrease your HDL/good cholesterol levels.

Why is fat important and how much do we need each day?

Essential fatty acids are essential for proper nervous system development, cell membrane integrity, proper brain function, immune system function, energy levels and our anti-inflammatory response.
We need fat to absorb fat soluble vitamins (D, E, K, A).

Maybe part of the reason why fat gets such a bad rap is because it is high in calories. All fat has 9cal/gram. Children between the ages of 1-3 years need about 30-40% of their total daily calories from fat. Older children (4-18 years) require 25-35%, and adults (19 years and older) need about 20-35% of their total daily calories from fat. Referring to my points above, we should try to consume most of these fat calories from unsaturated fat sources.

Lastly, don’t be fooled by “fat-free” or “low-fat” foods. Normally, these food products tend to be higher in other ingredients, like sugar for example, to suit our taste buds. Instead, choose foods that are lower in fat naturally- fruit, vegetables, legumes, whole grains.