When it comes to weight loss, some types of fats are more beneficial than others. Learn which fat sources you should eat more of and less of each day.
Is there a type of fat that is best for weight loss? Back in the 90s, everyone thought “fat makes you fat”. In recent years, we’ve shifted away from this belief and towards the other end of the spectrum, where many people think carbs are the enemy and the Keto diet is the solution. But there is still a lot of confusion around the role of fat in the diet. So today, I’m going to clear up some myths and explain exactly which types of fat you should be consuming for health and weight loss.
When the low fat diet trend started, people began to demonize fat for two main reasons:
👉 Fat has 9 kcals per gram, higher than protein and carbs, so many people assumed it was causing weight gain. (La Berge, 2008).
👉 Research came out showing the link between saturated fat and high cholesterol, which contributes to heart disease (La Berge, 2008).
The problem was, when people started cutting out fat, they usually replaced it with refined carbohydrates, so calorie intake (and therefore weight) stayed the same or increased.
Companies began to create low-fat versions of many of their products that were still high in sugar and calories, and therefore promoted weight gain, while these companies branded them as “heart healthy” products (La Berge, 2008).
The low-fat craze also made things confusing for consumers. Although saturated and trans fats are the major concerns for heart health, the media and companies promoting low fat made many people see all fat as the enemy, or were unsure what type of fats were harmful and which were helpful.
Consuming a very low fat diet is a problem because fat has some important functions in the body (Smolin et al., 2020):
There are 3 major types of fats, which have different effects on the body.
This category includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which mostly come from plants. Both of these types of fats lower “bad” cholesterol and help to maintain “good” cholesterol levels, so they are beneficial for heart health.
These fats are solid at room temperature and mostly come from animal sources. If they are overconsumed over a long period of time, they can lead to an increase in “bad” cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Most of the trans fats in our diet are created during a manufacturing process where hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to give them a longer shelf life. Trans fats increase levels of “bad” cholesterol and decrease levels of “good cholesterol”, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Because of the health risks, there has been a big push for companies to remove trans fats from their products. Trans fats should be avoided if possible (Smolin et al., 2020).
You may have read or heard about the importance of Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s and Omega-6 fatty acids are two types of polyunsaturated fats. They must be consumed through your diet because your body is unable to produce them.
Omega-3s are important for brain function and are associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases. Omega-6 fatty acids are also required from your diet, but sources of Omega-6s are common in standard Western diets, while we typically don’t consume enough Omega-3s. Omega-3s are found in mackerel, salmon, oysters, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and sardines. There are high levels of omega-6 in refined vegetable oils ( eg. soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil; often used in restaurant foods), which is what makes them so common in our diets.
Early humans typically consumed a diet with a ratio of 1:1 of Omega-6 to Omega-3. Today, however, the ratio is more like 15:1. This off-balance ratio is associated with inflammation and a greater risk of chronic disease (Simopoulos, 2010).
Therefore, most of the fat in your diet should come from whole food sources (avocado, coconut, nuts, nut butters, seeds) and cold-pressed oils (olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil), as these sources provide monounsaturated fats and omega-3s.
As I mentioned before, 1 gram of fat contains 9 calories (more than protein and carbs, which both provide 4 calories per gram). But, this doesn’t mean you should avoid fat when you’re trying to lose weight! It just means it can be easier to over consume calories from fat, so it’s important to be mindful of your portions of ALL types of fat, even the ones that are healthier — ie. just because nuts and nut butters contain heart-healthy mono- and polyunsaturated fats doesn’t mean you can eat them in unlimited quantities. Overeating healthy fats will still cause weight gain (Smolin et al., 2020).
Based on the types of fat described above, below are some guidelines on which foods you should consume more and less often.
Most of the fat in your diet should come from whole food sources and cold-pressed oils, as these sources provide monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Foods that you may choose to include occasionally are those that are more processed, and contain higher levels of saturated fat, and/or also contain sugar. They can be consumed daily in small quantities if you enjoy them, but they shouldn’t make up the majority of the fat in your diet.
Fats that should be minimized are less beneficial for a number of reasons.
First, oils like sunflower, safflower, vegetable, canola, and soybean are not a concern due to saturated fat content; they actually contain mostly polyunsaturated fats! These oils contain high levels of Omega-6 fatty acids, which, as mentioned, are plentiful and typically overconsumed in Western diets. Therefore, we aim to minimize them, in favor of fat sources containing Omega-3 fatty acids.
Other foods to eat less of include those high unsaturated fat and/or those that are highly processed, including butter, shortening, bacon, sausages, and hydrogenated vegetable oils (which contain trans fats).
Additionally, foods like cake, ice cream, and baked goods are high in saturated fat as well as sugar, making them very calorically dense and nutrient-poor (Simopoulos, 2010; Smolin et al., 2020).
You don’t need to follow a low fat diet for weight loss. When you minimize fat, you might cut some calories, but you can also miss out on important functions of healthy fats, such as omega-3s. Alternatively, a high fat diet is usually not the best approach, as it also means a lower carb diet (if weight loss is the goal) and this is unsustainable for many people. Instead, the most sustainable approach for the majority of individuals trying to lose weight is a balance of macronutrients, a focus on unsaturated fats and nutrient-dense whole foods most of the time, and smaller amounts of less nutritious foods to prevent the feeling of restriction.
If you’re not sure what macronutrient ratio and quantities are best for you and your goals, our Nutrition Blueprint Method provides you with a customized blueprint for your health goals based on your lifestyle. No intense food restrictions required. We set you up to see lasting results by helping you build healthy habits, a strong mindset, and give you a personalized nutrition program that will work for you and not against you. Click HERE to book a discovery call and find out if you’re a good fit for our program!
La Berge, A. F. (2008). How the ideology of low fat conquered America. Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 63(2), 139-177.
Simopoulos, A. P. (2010). The omega-6/omega-3 fatty acid ratio: health implications. Oléagineux, Corps gras, Lipides, 17(5), 267-275.
Smolin, L. A., Grosvenor, M. B., & Gurfinkel, D. (2020). Nutrition: Science and applications. John Wiley & Sons.
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