A coworker of mine explained they were giving their diet a complete overhaul for the New Year. Starting today they would be limiting their fat intake to 10% of their diet and consuming mostly fruit and vegetables. While I am a HUGE advocate for eating whole foods and lots of fruits and veggies...restricting fats isn't as helpful as some people think.
Fats have a bad reputation; eating too much can lead to weight gain, clogged arteries, heart disease, diabetes, even cancer. We are constantly being told to decrease our fat consumption. But is it possible to eat too little fat to stay healthy?
Fat protects our internal organs by providing cushioning from trauma and stress. It is an insulator and helps our body stay warm. Fat is the largest energy reserve in our body and gives us energy especially during long endurance events. Fat transports fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) from the digestive tract into our bodies and to our cells for utilization. It is essential to form hormones needed to regulate bodily processes. Fat keeps us feeling full and satisfied from a meal. Fat also wraps around nerves within the body and brain to help send electrical messages and maintain cellular communication.
Our bodies can make some fat from the carbohydrates and protein we eat, but we cannot make two essential fatty acids that are necessary for good health. The essential fats are called omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These fats help regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation, promote healthy blood clotting, increase immunity, protect the heart, are needed for growth and development, and possibly increase cognitive function and memory. These unsaturated healthy fats should make up the majority of our diet. They can be found in nuts, seeds, soybeans/tofu, fish, shellfish, whole grains, nut butters, sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, and olive oil.
Saturated fats and trans fats are typically considered the "bad" fats found in meat, whole milk, and baked goods. Believe it or not our bodies do need a small amount of saturated fat to work properly. The American Heart Association recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories. Most healthy fats such as nuts, avocado, and olive oil do contain a small amount of saturated fat so it is easy to obtain some in your diet.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting total fat intake to less than 25-35% of total calories, obtaining most from unsaturated sources. If you are sticking to a 2000 calorie diet that is about 3-5 Tbs of fat daily. That does not just include cooking oils and salad dressings. That total includes any fat found within the food you eat. Most breads, some vegetables (like avocados), dairy, eggs, fish, and meat contain fat to contribute to your daily total.
With the start of the New Year focus on healthy eating habits on a day to day basis, and try to avoid extreme diets that limit essential nutrients. Eating plenty of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts, seeds, and beans can help promote a healthy lifestyle and optimal health.