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  • Monique Vuong, MS, RD

BREAKING DOWN F-A-T

Updated: Jan 17


Avocado Oil! Coconut Oil! Ghee! One minute coconut oil is great, and the next minute it'll kill you. Like any topic in nutrition, perspectives evolve with emerging research. With rapidly changing stances in the scientific community, it can be outright overwhelming. What doesn't change though? The basics! And that's what I'm here to share with you.

Before I became a dietitian, I was always confused about what kind of fat I was eating, how much I should be eating, and all the articles I read provided different information. If any of you know me, you know that I like to be informed. I was always that kid that wanted to know "Why? Why? Why?" until there was no more why. For those who, like me, prefer to be in the know, this post is for you.

While you may hear certain fats labeled as "good" and "bad", each type of fat (except for trans fat which is 100% harmful to your health) serves a role in our bodies. It is only when there is imbalance or excess of specific kinds that problems arise.

As a consumer, here's what you need to know. The types of fats you choose to consume affect 1) your cholesterol (LDL or "bad", and HDL or "good") and 2) inflammation levels. Cholesterol is an important structural component of cell membranes, serves as precursor to certain hormones, and even aids with digestion (makes up bile). The body's inflammatory response is vital to immune function, protecting us from pathogens and foreign bodies. What happens if these go unregulated? If elevated, LDL and inflammation levels are associated with increased risk for chronic illnesses such as Cardiovascular Disease, Hypertension, Diabetes, and Alzheimer's Disease to name a few. Want to minimize your risk of these diseases? Read on.

First, let's cover the basics. Before we can get into the fats you should be eating, we need to be able to identify them! What are the different categories and sources of fat?

(Note: Foods typically contain multiple types of fat, but are labeled according to its predominant source.)

1) MONOUNSATURATED FAT, MUFA

avocados, olive oil, canola oil, most nuts

2) POLYUNSATURATED FAT, PUFA

a) Omega-6: cottonseed oil, soybean oil, corn oil, dairy, meat, eggs

b) Omega-3

i) ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid): chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts

ii) EPA and DHA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid): fish oil, krill, seaweed, algae extract (for vegetarians)

3) SATURATED FAT

butter, ghee (clarified butter without casein and lactose), dairy, red meat, palm kernel oil, coconut oil

(Note: Coconut oil is usually in its own subcategory because it is metabolized differently than other saturated fats. This is why there is often debate on its role in diet and health. This will be discussed in a future post.)

4) TRANS FAT

foods with "partially hydrogenated oil" in ingredient list

*Always look at ingredient list of package for "partially hydrogenated oil," another word for trans fat. Just because the food label says 0g does not guarantee no trans fat. According to FDA guidelines, food labels can state 0g trans fat if <0.5g*

DIETARY GUIDELINES FOR AMERICANS:

  • MUFAs and PUFAs = no dietary limits provided

  • saturated fat = <10% of your daily calories

  • trans fat = AVOID!

(USDA updates guidelines every five years. For more info, click here.)

Of the fats listed, there are two that are essential and can only be obtained from diet: the PUFAs, omega-3 and omega-6 . Our bodies can make the rest. When it comes to the U.S. diet, the average American consumes excess saturated and omega-6 PUFAs, offsetting the desired balance. This scenario increases one's risk to chronic illnesses described above.

So, what do we do? For the average American, the recommendation is to consume more MUFAs and omega-3 PUFAs + reduce saturated fat intake, which help to lower LDL levels as well as inflammation to desired ranges.

(Note: I mention the "average American" because specific dietary needs vary from person to person depending on genetics, lifestyle, etc. These are general guidelines.)

The Takeaway: Be sure to increase MUFAs and omega-3 PUFAs and reduce saturated fat in your diet if LDL and chronic inflammation are of concern. Otherwise, all fats (except trans) can have a place in your diet within recommended ranges. Want to know more about fat and its role in inflammation? There is much more information that goes along with this, and it is truly fascinating stuff!

Stay tuned. Next up: Fat and Inflammation, How It All Works

(Table Above - https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#callout-dietary-fats)


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