Does eating dietary fat make you fat?

Fat.

What do you think of when you hear this word?

The word fat tends to have a negative connotation attached to it. After years of being exposed to diet culture, I’ll be honest and tell you that my mind used to instantly go to body fat. Now that I have reframed how I perceive dietary fat, I no longer fear it and actually embrace this macronutrient. Now, I tend to think of dietary fat as nutrient-dense energy that fuels and nourishes my body. I also start day dreaming of my favorite foods that contain fat- avocado, nuts and nut butters, and seeds. Yum!

Try reframing in this moment by saying, “Fat is a nutrient that makes food taste good, nourishes my body, and keeps me alive and well!”. Go ahead. Say it out loud. There ya go! 🙌  Because that’s what it does. Just like carbs, fat should NOT be demonized. It is called a macronutrient for a reason. Macro, meaning large, and nutrient meaning nourishing our bodies. We just need to educate ourselves on how much our bodies need and from what sources. Let’s get started!

Starting with the basics, I’m going to break down two types of fat for you: saturated vs. unsaturated fat. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature (think butter, coconut oil, or animal fat). They contain single bonds that make the substance stable, which means it doesn’t oxidize easily. Therefore, this fat also takes longer to decompose. Saturated fat builds up in the blood vessels and arteries over time, especially when consumed in excess, leading to atherosclerosis and heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that a healthy individual eat <10% saturated fat of their total daily intake, while one at risk for heart disease consumes <7%.

Unsaturated fats are less stable and prone to oxidation and rancidity. So why are unsaturated fats favorable? Unsaturated fats do not clog your arteries like saturated fat does. It breaks down easier, and many monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats actually have heart health protective qualities (in addition to other health benefits). You heard that right!

In short, as long as you stay within the macronutrient range of 20-35% total daily intake of a healthy mix of fats, with <10% of saturated fat (<7% for those at risk for heart disease), your body should utilize that fat for essential bodily processes. So no, consuming fat does not make you fat, as long as you eat a variety of fats in a balanced manner. Note: some athletes or individuals with medical conditions may need MORE fat in their diet. When I was marathon training, my average daily fat intake was up to 40% because I was burning through so much energy.

I think the fear of dietary fat came from misinformation, but also the myth that dietary fat converts directly into stored fat on our body as adipose tissue. This is FALSE!

Other functions of fat include:

  • temperature regulation (insulation)
  • energy storage
  • makes up the lipid membrane of the cell and other bodily structures
  • aids in fat-soluble vitamin absorption
  • neuroprotective
  • cushions and protects our vital organs
  • are precursor to hormone production & secretion
  • omega-3s are anti-inflammatory

The list goes on!

As you can glean from the above, dietary fat is crucial to maintain life and a truly healthy body. There are even minimum amounts of body fat men and women should possess for health, especially women and maintaining their menses monthly (now recognized as the fifth pillar of health). This number varies with gender, age and other factors.

Fat-free diets that were followed by our parents are not the answer or way to go! Sure, some people with medical conditions may need to monitor their fat intake a little more closely than others, but once again, aim to stay within the macro range of 20-35%, and you’re good. Furthermore, the quality of fats you’re consuming DO matter.

Some great dietary fat choices include:

  • avocados
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • tahini (ground sesame that is used in hummus and now many dressings)
  • olive oil
  • olives
  • ghee (not for those limiting saturated fat though)
  • avocado oil
  • fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies)
  • full-fat, organic Greek yogurt or kefir (the reason I recommend organic for full-fat animal products is because toxins can be stored in animal fat)
  • cheese
  • eggs
  • coconut- coconut oil is fine but be mindful of serving size

In fact, you will want to be mindful with most dietary fat servings. It’s easy to overdo it, but that doesn’t mean you have to count the nuts and seeds you consume. That’s an easy road to forming disordered eating patterns. Just be aware and educate yourself (or seek education from me!) on what average portions look like.

I do suggest incorporating fat at most meals and sometimes snacks, for satiation purposes, among other reasons mentioned above. It just depends on what your particular diet and lifestyle look like. Once again, I am happy to help in any way I can, so if you have questions, feel free to reach out or schedule a nutrition consultation with me HERE.