Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients (fats, carbohydrates and proteins) the body uses for energy. It is the most energy dense of the macronutrients, providing 9 calories per gram, compared to 4 calories per gram for carbs and proteins. Contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not makes you fat. Fat has many important functions within the body and attempting to eliminate it from the diet can lead to serious health consequences.
Aside from providing the body with energy, fats have other important functions. Fats are required for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Without fat, the body would not absorb those vitamins, leading to nutrient deficiencies. Fat is also important in hair, skin and cell production.
Types of Fats: Good vs. Bad
There are three main types of fats (saturated, trans and unsaturated), each with unique effects (both positive and negative) on the body. Saturated and trans fats are known as the bad/unhealthy fats because they tend to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Unsaturated fats are known as the good/healthy fats because they tend to decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Blindly cutting all fats out of your diet in an effort to reduce calorie intake causes you to miss out on some important health benefits. There are much smarter ways to lose weight.
Sources of Fats
Fats are found in a wide variety of both animal and plant based foods. Saturated (bad/unhealthy) fats are found mostly in animal products, trans (bad/unhealthy) fats are found in processed foods and unsaturated (good/healthy) fats are found mostly in plant products.
Sources of saturated fats include: meat, dairy (milk, cheese, butter, cream) and eggs. Limit your intake of saturated fats to about 10% of your overall calorie intake. Sources of trans fats include: some peanut butters, vegetable shortening, baked goods, processed foods and any food that contains hydrogenated oil (check the nutrition label). Limit your intake of trans fats to as little as possible. Sources of unsaturated fats include: plant foods, nuts, seeds, seafood, oils and fatty fruits/vegetables. Limit your intake of unsaturated fats to about 20% of your overall calorie intake.
Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat
There are an almost endless amount of diet and nutrition misconceptions. One of the biggest involves dietary fat causing weight gain. Macronutrients provide calories/energy to the body. Fat is only one of the macronutrients alongside carbohydrates and proteins. Fats, carbs and proteins on their own do not cause weight gain, only excess calories do.
A calorie surplus is a state in which you eat more than you burn. This extra energy causes weight gain. It makes little difference whether a calorie surplus comes from fat, carbs or protein. Eating fat does not make you fat, eating too many calories does.
The Bottom Line
Fats have an important role in the body. In addition to providing energy, healthy fats decrease the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. The ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fats is important in creating a healthy lifestyle.