Fat is often given a bad reputation because of how energy dense it can be. Keep reading to learn more facts about fat, different types of fat, and how much to consume each day!
Facts About Fat
There are 3 main macronutrients (aka macros): carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Alcohol is potentially a 4th macro, because pure alcohol contains calories (let me know if you’d like a separate post on this down in the comments!). This post provides an overview of fat to help you better understand what it is, different types of fat, and why it's important.
First, I’m going to explain what fat is and list common food sources. Next, I'm going to break fat into 3 categories: saturated, unsaturated, and trans. Then I am going to discuss daily carbohydrate recommendations and give a pro tip about which fats to use in cooking!
What is fat?
Dietary fat is essential for optimal functioning. It is involved in hormone production, immune system functioning, brain health, cholesterol levels, energy levels, and more! Fatty acids make up the term "fat," and some are essential, meaning we must consume them through food. Fat provides 9 calories per gram (meaning if a food has 5g of fat, 45 of the total calories come from fat), compared to carbohydrates and protein, which have 4 calories per gram. This means that fat is a big source of energy for us!
Fat is also important for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins: vitamins A, D, E, and K. We need to consume these vitamins with fat in order to absorb them. They're also stored in fat, which is one reason why we need some body fat!
Food sources of fat
Fat is found in many foods:
- Meat (any marbling and skin you see on/in meat, is fat! Think steak, pork, skin-on chicken)
- Oils (olive, canola, avocado, walnut, etc.)
- Nuts/seeds + nut/seed butters
- Processed meats (bacon, sausage)
- Butter, margarine, lard
- Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, sardines)
- Coconut oil/coconut
- Full-fat dairy (cream, cream cheese, sour cream, ice cream, cheese)
- Hummus (from tahini)
Unsaturated vs. saturated fat vs. trans fat
One important thing I'd like to highlight on this chart is coconut oil. Although advertised nowadays as a "health food," coconut oil is actually a saturated fat (and contains more saturated fatty acids than butter!). It can be great for baking and cooking foods at a high heat due to its high smoke point, but I would try to use an unsaturated fat, like olive oil, as your main cooking oil. Keep reading for my preferred oil with a higher smoke point!
A quick word on trans fats: companies can say a food has 0g trans fat if there's 0.5g or less of trans fat. Therefore, I recommend reading ingredients labels to look for any fully or partially hydrogenated oils to know if there's trans fat in a food. One common source of trans fat is nut butter! Even though nut butters are unsaturated fats, companies will use hydrogenated oil to prevent the butter from separating. This is why I always buy natural nut butters and double check that the ingredients do not contain hydrogenated oils. 🙂
How much fat do I need a day?
The United States Department of Agriculture recommends we consume no more than 30% of our total energy intake from fat and less than 10% of our calories from saturated fat. We want to consume as little trans fats as possible, which leaves the majority of our fat intake coming from unsaturated fat sources!
Everyone has different needs, fitness goals, body composition goals, etc. I typically calculate protein and carbohydrate needs first and then see how much fat that would leave, and go from there!
Final Facts About Fat
Keep in mind, fat is energy dense. Therefore, a little bit goes a long way, especially when compared to carbohydrates and protein.
Overall, my recommendation is to use olive oil as your primary cooking oil. This is an unsaturated fat that has been shown to be heart-healthy. If you want to pan fry or sear something at a high temp, avocado oil is my recommendation!
Definitely need a breakdown of alcohol as a macronutrient. This was a great read! I was literally just thinking last week that needed a refresher on types of fats. If you happened to do a special article on LDL vs HDL cholesterol, I would not be mad!
Awesome feedback, Tyler! Thank you! I will definitely add alcohol to the list. Cholesterol can be so confusing too, that's another good one!