The Skinny on Fats

by Elisa Olivier-Nielsen, MA, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, EON Consulting

Fats, also known as lipids, found in foods and our bodies mainly fall into three categories: triglycerides, phospholipids (such as lecithin) and sterols (such as cholesterol).

In addition to generating satiety, fats provide most of the energy needed to perform the body’s muscular work, and they are the major form of energy storage in the body.

Fats are divided into saturated and unsaturated fats, and each of them uniquely impact our overall health.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature, and they include all animal fat and coconut and palm kernel oils. An excess of saturated fat intake has been linked to adverse health consequences.

Unsaturated fats are divided into two categories: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats are found in foods, like avocados, nuts and seeds, and there is a good body of research to support the fact that monounsaturated fats are heart healthy.

Polyunsaturated fats are omega-3s, omega-6s, omega-7s and omega-9s, and they are mostly found in vegetable oils and fish oil. Vegetable oils such as soybean, corn, sunflower and safflower are mostly refined oils high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids that can create inflammation and degrade cholesterol, making heart disease more likely to develop. Omega-9s are found in olive oil, while omega-7s are found in macadamia nuts and algae.  

Omega-3s are known as the superstar fats among polyunsaturated fats, but our body is not able to make these fats. So, it is essential to consume them on a regular basis to avoid deficiencies.

These fatty acids provide a baseline protection against disease by reducing inflammation in the body, and they are found in foods like fatty fish, seafood, nuts and seeds, grass-fed red meats, green leafy vegetables, Brussels sprouts, wild-caught game, cage-free chicken and their eggs, or when taken in a capsule form.

Simple ways to reduce solid fats (aka saturated fats) intake include choosing low-fat dairy products, low-fat sandwich meats and hot dogs, lean meats, baked or light chips, eating fruit instead of baked goods and other desserts, replacing cream-based soups with broth-based soups, etc.

The bottom line is that our bodies do need fat to function properly, but the source, quality and amount consumed greatly matters to support optimal health.