Have you heard the latest news? Fat may not be the villain of the dietary world that it once was. In fact, as research continues to shine light on the importance of fat in the diet, the question is now becoming, “Should I be eating more fat?”
After the last several decades of low-fat diet mania, the idea of eating more fat may seem unfathomable. A walk down almost any grocery aisle shows just how obsessed we’ve become with low-fat foods like baked potato chips, fat-free ice cream, low-fat candies, cookies, and cakes. But while the availability of low-fat options has exploded, so have obesity rates. Some experts now question whether or not lower-fat diets and specialty foods may actually play a role in Americans’ expanding waistlines.
In truth, dietary fats are essential to the body’s ability to create energy, support cell growth, absorb certain nutrients and produce important hormones.
Dietary Recommendations for Fats
As with other nutrients in a healthy eating plan, fats come with their own set of recommendations. The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) recommend that adults consume 20 to 35 percent of total daily calories from fat. For example, a meal plan of 1,200 calories per day should include approximately 27 to 47 grams of fat. A meal plan of 2,400 calories per day should include roughly 53 to 93 grams of fat.
Detailed research shows that, rather than the total amount of fat, the type of fat and the total calories in the diet are more closely linked to weight or disease risk. There are essentially two categories of fat:
- Bad fats – These include trans and saturated fats, both of which have been shown to increase the risk for certain diseases.
- Good fats – These include monounsaturated (such as canola and olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats (including fatty fish, soybean oil, and corn oil), which have been shown to reduce the risk for certain diseases benefiting the heart and most other parts of the body.
Health experts make the following recommendations for fat in a healthy diet:
- Eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats to eliminate this “bad fat” whenever possible. Trans fat can be found in partially hydrogenated oils, commonly used in commercially baked goods, margarine, and some fast food.
- Limit saturated fats. Reduce red meat and full-fat dairy foods in your healthy eating plan and replace them with leaner meats like poultry and fish and plant-based protein sources such as beans and nuts. Switch from whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods that can be high in saturated fat to lower-fat versions of those products.
- Eat omega-3 fats every day. These essential fatty acids can be found in fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil and soybean oil.
Risks of Eating Too Little Fat
As with any nutrient deficiency, there are several risks associated with consuming too little fat in the diet. These serious risks further underline the importance of adequate amounts of fat as part of a healthy diet. Risks include:
- Poor vitamin absorption. The proper absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K depends on adequate dietary fat. These vitamins contribute to essential functions such as growth, immunity, cell repair and blood clotting, but can be lost if too little fat is available to aid with absorption.
- Excessive appetite. Often, clients with weight-loss goals find that following a low-fat diet can actually make reaching their goals more difficult due to reduced appetite control. In a study published in the journal Obesity in 2010, 270 obese adults consumed a diet moderate or low in fat. The dieters who consumed the moderate-fat diet reported significantly fewer food cravings and hunger pangs compared to the low-fat dieters, whose diets were also higher in starch and lower in protein. The most effective strategy to manage appetite is to incorporate moderate amounts of fat into balanced meals and snacks as part of a sensible eating plan.
- Changing moods. The production of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine in the brain is impossible without adequate fats in the diet. Low levels of fats and feel-good chemicals can result in depressed moods, fogginess and the inability to concentrate. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids in particular can cause mood swings and even depression.
It’s time to let go of the outdated belief that all fats are bad and the best meal plan is a low-fat diet. Instead, embrace a healthy diet for yourself and clients, one that is rich in good fats and limits bad fats, for real results that health and fitness professionals can agree on.