Unfortunately this is the kind of bogus statement largely to blame for the overwhelming confusion around fat.
Social media, magazines, books, the Internet, TV, all of them are full of attention-grabbing nutrition "facts" that are too often misinformation or disinformation (ahem, Fake News).
Since fat is a media superstar, let's review the basics of fat so that you're not distracted by future fat "facts."
Fat, similar to carbohydrates and protein, is an essential nutrient that contains carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Unlike carbohydrates and protein, fat does not mix with water. This is especially important when it comes to how our bodies digest, absorb and utilize fat. Most of the fat in our diet exists as triglycerides. A triglyceride is made up of a compound called glycerol attached to three fatty acids. The scientific term for fat is lipid.
Why is fat important?
Although there is a tendency to fear fat, we do indeed need fat to survive. Fat protects our vital organs, balances hormones, insulates our bodies from cold temperatures, provides us with energy and helps us digest and absorb very important nutrients, most notably fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat also adds texture and flavor to foods. Not eating enough of certain types of fat can cause fatigue, growth retardation, hair loss, delayed wound healing, reproductive problems and poor mental health. Roughly 50 to 60 percent of the adult brain is made up of lipids!
What foods have fat?
Fat is critical in keeping our bodies healthy, but that doesn't mean we can eat just any kind of fat. The key to maintaining good health and a nutritious diet is eating the right kinds of fats in the right quantities.
There are healthy fats and there are unhealthy fats. All of the following foods are good sources of healthy fats:
- Nuts and seeds, including nut and seed butters
- Peanuts, including peanut butter (peanuts are a legume)
- Olive, flax, walnut, and organic canola oil
- Cold-water fatty fish (e.g. salmon, tuna, herring)
- Tahini (aka sesame paste), often used in hummus
- Grass-fed beef
How much of it is safe to eat?
When it comes to dietary fat, we should focus on quality over quantity. I think the easiest way to approach this is to choose whole or lightly processed sources of plant fat more frequently, and to limit sources of animal fat and processed foods. And, avoid trans fats.
Keep in mind that all fats provide 9 calories per gram, more than double that of carbohydrates and protein, so the calories can add up quickly and lead to undesirable weight gain.
What's a common myth about fat?
Besides the myth that all fat is bad, one of the most common and frustrating fat fallacies is that we should choose low-fat or fat-free options when available. Too often food manufacturers will add sugar, sodium, artificial sweeteners and other unnatural food additives to make up for what’s lacking when the fat is removed, such as taste and texture.
Anything else to know about fat?
Including healthy sources of fat with meals and snacks will help fill you up and keep you satisfied. People who avoid fats tend to crave refined carbohydrates and added sugar.
Also, healthy plant fats are generally better tolerated than animal fats and less likely to lead to gastrointestinal upset. Animal fats and fried foods often contribute to abdominal pain, bloating, heartburn, and diarrhea (often urgent and after meals).