Top 5 Dietary Fat Myths Busted

By Kim McDevitt, MPH RD on August 28, 2017 , categorized in Health, Plant-based Nutrition

Top 5 Fat Myths

The discussion around fats and our diet has gone across the spectrum and back again. There was a time when we were told to avoid fats of any form, launching the fat-free dietary craze, and then we ran in the complete opposite direction, thanks to Atkins and the low-carb lifestyle, practically maxing out our dietary fat intake.

So where’s the line? How much is too much and what’s not enough? And, if you are going to eat fat, what foods are best? Because, you’ve likely heard, not all fats are equal.

Let’s work through some of beliefs, and notions, and schools of thought around dietary fat, all while understanding one bottom line. Not all fats are not bad. But, the type of fat and how much fat you eat MATTERS. 7American Heart Association (2016). You’re your fats. Accessed on 7/26/16 from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/Cholesterol/PreventionTreatmentofHighCholesterol/Know-Your-Fats_UCM_305628_Article.jsp#.V30q2esrK00

Myth 1: No form of dietary fat is Ok to eat

Yes, there are dietary fats that you should limit. These include avoiding trans fats and limiting saturated fats, due to their ability to raise cholesterol8American Heart Association (2015). Trans Fats. Accessed on 7/26/16 from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Trans-Fats_UCM_301120_Article.jsp, and potentially have negative consequences on your health 9National Institute of Health (2011). Weighing in on Dietary Fats. . Accessed on 7/26/16 from:https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/dec2011/feature1. Avoid these fats by limiting your intake of  foods that are high in these fats, including butter, meats, margarine as well as processed and deep fried foods10Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2016-2020 http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/a-closer-look-inside-healthy-eating-patterns/#callout-dietary-fats.

However, these are not the only types of dietary fat. There are also “good fats” which include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fat that includes Omega-3 fatty acids. When these are eaten in moderation and replace trans fats and saturated fats, they have the potential to have positive affect on heart health. Beyond heart health, dietary fat also helps with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, vitamin A,D, E and K11Dawson-Hughes, B. (2014) Dietary fat increases vitamin D-3 absorption. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 115(2):225-30.  Foods with this type of fat include olive oil, sesame oil, avocado, peanut butter and many nuts and seeds. Omega-3 ALA is a fatty acid that cannot be made in the body, therefore you must get them from your diet. Omega-3 ALA can convert into different types of fatty acids once in your body, These are known as DHA, and EPA with plant based source being ALA. Walnuts, flaxseed oil and ground flax, chia or hemp seed are high in Omega-3s ALA.12Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2016-2020 http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-6/#o 13American Heart Association. (2015) Monounsaturated Fats. Accessed on 7/26/16 from: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/HealthyLiving/HealthyEating/Nutrition/Monounsaturated-Fats_UCM_301460_Article.jsp#.V5ews_krLIU[/annotation]

Myth 2: Fat-Free Foods are a smart snack choice

There was a time when it seemed every food marketed and manufactured was fat-free or offered a fat-free alternative.  Fat tastes good! And fats are also slower to digest in our body[annotation] Mahan, Kathleen. et al (2012). Krause’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process. Elsevier/Saunders. 13th edition.  , versus carbohydrates. So, with the removal of fat the addition of other ingredients including sugar, salt or other unhealthy ingredients occurs in order to make up for removed flavor, texture and taste.

Myth 3: Eating too much fat will make you fat.

Along with the fat-free craze came the notion that the more fat you eat the more fat you will have on your body14Harvard Medical School. Diet& Weight Loss. Accessed on 7/26/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/diet-and-weight-loss . While it is true that per gram fat yields higher calorie than protein or carbohydrate (9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram), the type of macronutrient isn’t the root of the problem. Rather, overall total calorie intake and exceeding your daily calorie needs is likely to result in increased weight gain.15Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015) Healthy Weight. Accessed on 7/2616 from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/calories/index.html 

Myth 4: Eating fat will increase your risk of heart disease

While it is true that excessive intake of trans fats may increase your risk of heart disease, plant-based sources of unsaturated fat can help support heart health. Monounsaturated fats may positively influence cholesterol in the body 16Harvard Medical School. (2015). 11 foods that lower cholesterol Accessed on 7/26/16 from: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/11-foods-that-lower-cholesterol  thus supporting heart health. These fats may help reduce bad cholesterol levels in the body thus supporting heart health.  Good sources of monounsaturated fats include: avocado, olives, olive oil, almonds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

Myth 5: So you’ve actually bought into the ‘fat-is-good’ craze but now you’re pushing the other end of the spectrum. How much fat is too much?

Today there are just as many articles out there promoting a high-fat diet as there are shunning it. And, thanks to many people seeing weight changes by restricting carbohydrates and increasing fats, it has become a popular way of eating. However, you can overdo it. As mentioned above, there are some fats you should be avoiding all together, others you should limit, and some that you need to make sure you’re including!

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines help us navigate this by recommending the following:

1. Consume less than 10% of your calories per day from saturated fat 17http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/chapter-1/key-recommendations

2. Total fat intake for adults age 19 and older should make up 20% to 35% of your diet. This means if you eat 2,000 calories per day around 500 of those calories will come from fat18Institute of Medicine (2002). Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids.Retrieved 9/1/15 from: http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Activity%20Files/Nutrition/DRIs/DRI_Macronutrients.pdfNational Institute of Health (2011). Weighing in on Dietary Fats. . Accessed on 7/26/16 from:
https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/dec2011/feature1
. Aim to hit this goal from the unsaturated good fats

Reach for whole food sources of unsaturated fat like:

  • Avocados (monounsaturated fat)
  • Olives (monounsaturated fat)
  • Nuts (walnuts are rich in Omega-3s ALA)
  • Seeds (chia, flax and hemp seeds are rich in Omega-3s ALA; pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds are rich in monounsaturated fats)
  • Cold-pressed oils (Such as extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, hempseed oil)

How do you incorporate fat into your diet?

Kim McDevitt, MPH RD

Kim McDevitt works at Vega as a National Educator. A runner, cooking enthusiast, plant-focused flexitarian, Kim has passionately built her career in nutrition. Noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in Dietetics and Public Health, to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle.

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