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Dietary Fats: The Truths, Pros & Cons

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With nutrition information being so easily accessible, it’s hard to filter through what is take-to-heart recommendations by professionals and what is fluff.  Here are science-based recommendations, as well as how to take this home and revamp your pantry, fridge and meal plan.

Recommendations

The recommended daily intake of fat for adults is between 20-35% of total calorie intake. Meaning, if you consume a 1600 calorie diet, anywhere from 320 calories or 36 grams of fat upwards to 560 calories or 62 grams can be consumed daily.

Of course, if you are on the upper end of fat consumption, you’ll have to scale back on either your protein or carbohydrates, and most often I’d then recommend trimming back on carbohydrates since lean proteins can be so beneficial to lean muscle mass and meal and snack satiety.

With clients, I’ll usually recommend a specific amount of carbohydrates and proteins per meal and snack; therefore, the fats can fall into place without having to count calories.

Pros

Dietary fats (or fatty acids) are important for body functions such as helping in the digestion, absorption, and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins, as well as plant-based nutrients like carotenoids and lycopene. Fats also serve an important role in the texture and taste of various foods and can aid in keeping us fuller longer, especially when paired with lean proteins and fiber.

Olive oil, nuts and omega 3 rich fish oils are great sources of unsaturated, heart-healthy fat to include in your diet.  Try to center your meal plan around using olive oil for cooking, nuts as snacks or crunch toppings and fish as lean protein options for meals.

Cons:

Fats are highly calorie dense, meaning they contain a large amount of calories in a relatively small portion.  Approximately one tablespoon of any type of fat, whether it’s heart-healthy like plant-sourced fats or not-so-healthy animal fats, contains 100-120 calories.

Saturated fats are found primarily in animal-based food sources, solid at room temperature and should be limited as much as possible in your diet to prevent negative effects on your cholesterol level. Only 7-10% of your total calorie intake should come from saturated fats such as butter, whole fat dairy products and high fat meats.

While coconut oil is made up of mostly saturated fats, it may have a neutral effect on our blood lipid levels and possibly a positive impact on our good HDL cholesterol.

Trans-fats are the worst types of fats, and we should try to avoid them at all costs due to their double-harmful effect on our blood cholesterol by raising LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowering HDL (good) cholesterol.

Tips and Tricks

* Rather than getting more plant based fats (due to their high calorie content regardless of the type) try to think of cleaning out the bad fats (saturated and trans fat) and replacing them with plant-derived unsaturated fats as much as possible.

*Just because a food label says “0 grams trans-fat” on the nutrition facts doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any trans fats present. You really need to read the ingredient list of baked goods, flavored rice packets, bags of popcorn, non-dairy coffee creamers, some margarines and even tortillas to isolate “hydrogenated” oils and pick up a different brand that does not contain the trans fats.

* Put salad dressing and sauces on the side and dip your fork as a way to get the same flavor without consuming the entire portion.

* Swap out mayo and sour cream with 2% plain Greek yogurt. It’s great for dips and condiments to save on the fat and calorie content and provide an even bigger boost of protein, probiotics and even calcium!

* Sprinkle a little stone ground, yellow corn meal or make homemade whole grain bread crumbs for a crispy oven-baked version of fried fish or chicken.

Heart-healthy snacks

100 calorie guacamole cup with cucumber slices

1/4 cup hummus + carrot sticks

1/4 cup Greek yogurt dip + 12 Beanitos

Beet or kale chips drizzled lightly with olive oil, black pepper and garlic powder baked at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

Celery + tablespoon almond butter

1/4 cup mixed nuts

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