Fats 101

One of the most common issues with people who think they are eating healthy is a lack of necessary dietary fat.  Not only do they lack the necessary amount, but are also missing balance (more on that later).  Fat contributes to a myriad of functions in the body including: vitamin absorption, hormone production, cell regeneration, skin and hair production and health, energy pathways, etc.  The point is, fat is extremely important, and if you’re not getting enough (especially of the right kinds) you may be severely impeding results.  Increasing your fat intake can also help with energy balance and satiety, which will help keep you away from those late night sugar binges.

What to eat?

You should be eating an equal ratio of saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fats.  The following table provides examples of foods high in each type of fat.

 Fish Oil – what’s the big deal?

Fish oil is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are a special type of polyunsaturated fatty acid that our body is unable to produce.  This makes them “essential fatty acids”, which means they must be ingested through our diet.  To get the recommended amount of omega-3’s, I suggest supplementing with algae or fish oil.  Fish oil helps balance our ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids, which should be around 2-3:1, but is usually found to be between 20-30:1 for most Americans.  This lopsided ratio is associated with a whole list of negative side effects.

When searching for a fish oil product find one that has at least 300mg of EPA + DHA per 1000mg of fish oil.  Be aware that some companies up the amount of EPA or in “double” or “triple strength” fish oils but leave out the DHA (the ratio of EPA to DHA should be around 3:2).

What to Avoid?

Trans fat should be completely eliminated from your diet because they have been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular heart disease among other negative side effects.  To do this simply stop eating crappy fried foods or cooking with vegetable oil.

Real world approach:  The following steps will help you fix your dietary fat problems; each step should last 2-4 weeks.

Step 1:  Start thinking about eating fats every meal.  You should be able to name a food with each meal that is primarily composed of fats.  Don’t worry too much about what types and amounts your getting as long as they are reasonable.

Step 2:  Start eating a wider variety of fats in your diet; try to add foods like olive oil, fish oil, avocados, etc.  Add 1-2 new fat sources every week until you have several options in each category that you like.  Most of you will become significantly healthier simply by consciously eating fats from a variety of sources.

Step 3: This is for those folks with loftier goals.  Choose fats from the 3 different categories and try to eat an equal ratio of each every day.  I do this by eating an equal amount of fat each meal (around 40g*) and concentrating on a specific type of fat every meal (6 meals/3 types = 2 meals with each type every day).  My breakdown looks something like this:

  • Meal 1 – eggs/fish oil (saturated)
  • Meal 2 – almonds or pecans (monounsaturated)
  • Meal 3 – flax seed/mixed nuts (polyunsaturated)
  • Meal 4 – peanut or almond butter/avocado (monounsaturated)
  • Meal 5 – varied/fish oil (usually saturated)
  • Meal 6 – walnut oil mixed in protein shake (polyunsaturated)

 

I only count the type of fat that appears in the largest portion for each meal.  I get several types of fat in many of these meals, but the majority comes from the type of fat listed.  I add fish oil to breakfast and dinner because those are easiest for me.

*My serving size is most likely higher than your would be.  I eat a lot of calories (4000-4500) and am currently eat a higher percent from fats.

Take Away Message

The most important thing you can learn from this is that around 30% (+ or – 5% day to day) of your calories should come from fats; consisting of a balanced blend of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats.  Be sure to avoid trans fats whenever possible, and try to eat 6-12 grams of fish oil every day (or around 3-6 grams of EPA+DHA).  If you’re simply looking to get healthier, add fish oil to your diet and try to eat fats from a variety of sources every day.