The message around fat is a confusing one.
For decades, we were told by professional health organizations and food companies that fat was the enemy, the “evil” force behind the obesity epidemic and heart disease. Fat was high in calories, experts theorized, and if we wanted to achieve a leaner body mass, consuming high-calorie foods simply didn’t make sense. By the time the ’90s rolled around, Americans were consuming low-fat, high-sugar snacks and refined carbohydrates around the clock.
After further research, it became clear that this theory was all wrong. In fact, it was found that regular consumption of healthy fat is crucial to overall health.
“We’ve finally started to recognize that certain fats are actually beneficial for weight loss, heart health and balancing hormones,” nutritionist Tamar Samuels told HuffPost.
Of course, there’s more to the fat story than that. Here are the most important things you need to know about fat, including why it’s such an important part of a healthy diet.
Why we need fat in our diets
“Fats are a primary energy source, and we must consume essential fatty acids to support the basic functions of our body,” Samuels said.
Regularly consuming healthy fats is linked with myriad day-to-day health benefits, including balancing hormones and fighting inflammation.
“Fats insulate our organs and serve as structural components of our cells,” Samuels explained. “It also supports immune function, helps to regulate our body temperature, maintains healthy skin, hair and nails, and helps us absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K. Other fats serve as a building block for creating hormones.”
Consuming healthy fats is also correlated with long-term health benefits, such as decreased risk of heart disease. As for the whole weight loss thing, studies show that low-carb diets are correlated with weight loss and weight maintenance ― meaning, yes, you should be eating some fat (and cooling it on the carbs) if you want to lose weight.
Functional medicine expert and Ketotarian author Will Cole added that fat consumption is also crucial for blood sugar balance. In other words, fat can help you avoid getting “hangry.”
“Even though our bodies can use glucose as fuel, they burn it off quickly leaving us on a blood sugar roller coaster ― constantly ‘hangry’ and searching for our next fix with out-of-control blood sugar and a multitude of metabolic and other health problems,” Cole explained.
Further, fat is crucial for helping our brains function optimally. “Our brains alone are comprised of 60 percent fat, and we typically start our lives relying on fat in the form of breast milk for energy and development,” Cole said. “Because of this, becoming a fat-burner rather than a sugar-burner ― the main principle of a ketogenic diet ― has been shown to enhance brain health.”
How much fat you should eat in a day
While there are some diets that advocate for a high-fat diet (hey there, keto), the government recommends people get only 20 to 35 percent of their calories from fat.
So if you’re eating a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, that breaks down to 400 to 700 calories from fat every day, and 44 to 78 grams of fat, depending on your body weight and activity level. As for saturated fat, the maximum amount of saturated fat you should be consuming from your diet is just 10 percent. So be sure to keep an eye on what type of fat you’re eating.
But as Cole explained to HuffPost, daily fat requirements really vary from person to person. “That requirement is based on age, weight, height, sex, activity level and any specific health conditions,” he said. “In general, focusing on bringing in some healthy fats with each meal and working up from there until you are satiated with your meal is a good start.”
Learn the difference between ‘good fat’ and ‘bad fat’
On the note of keeping an eye on what type of fat you’re consuming, here’s an important news flash: Not all fats are created equal. A few examples of “bad” fat include certain meats (pork, fatty beef), butter and margarine, and vegetable oils like canola, vegetable and safflower oil. This isn’t to say you should never consume these items ― you just shouldn’t have them very often.
Now, the good news: There are tons of delicious fatty foods that are actually really great for you. These generally fall under the category of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids like salmon, avocados, olive oil, whole eggs and nuts.
Now that you know just how good fat is for you, go ahead and fill your grocery cart up with all the avocados you can afford. You’ll need them!