Have you heard about good fats versus bad fats? How do you know what fats are good? Find out below.
If you’re trying to lose weight or improve your health, there’s no question that making dietary changes can be helpful. Exercising regularly (at least 150 minutes per week is recommended) is no doubt helpful in reaching your health goals. But it’s only a piece of the puzzle. No amount of exercise can replace a poor diet.
There’s a lot to learn (and a lot of research out there) about nutrition. However, since I’m a personal trainer, I can only share so much with you. But I enjoy doing my own research, sharing my opinion, and giving you some stepping stones in hopes that you’ll take the next steps in educating yourself.
Because when it comes to health, there’s nothing more powerful than knowledge.
*Important* – I am not a doctor or Registered Dietician! The information I’m sharing with you is meant to be a starting point for your own research and does NOT replace important information from your doctor or dietician. Always consult your doctor before making any major dietary changes.
A Personal Trainer & Nutritional Information
As I mentioned, as a personal trainer, I’m not allowed to do much in the way of telling you what to eat (or not). That means I can’t prescribe any special diets – that’s for your doctor or dietician to do! However, I am allowed to share basic nutritional concepts and U.S. recommendations for intake.
At first I was a little bummed when I realized that I can’t give you a lot of dietary advice. But in my studies I realized that what I AM able to share is probably still more than what most people know. Honestly, with 5 years of college under my belt, you’d think I’d come out knowing a lot about the human body and nutrition. NOPE! It wasn’t until I became a personal trainer that I really learned something!
Related Reading: Top 10 Benefits of Hiring a Personal Trainer
On top of that, I overhear people talking about food and weight loss SO much. Hearing people talk about food further confirms my suspicion that most of us are seeking more knowledge. I always encourage you, my readers, to do your own research. But I’m here to give you a starting point and get the wheels in your head turning.
The Basic Dietary Recommendations
Let’s start with the three basic macronutrients. These are the big categories in which all foods fit in somehow or another. They are:
All three are necessary to bodily functions and all play their own roles. That means that EVERYONE needs some of each group each day. The amount is what varies.
Foods can fit into just one category, but most of the time, foods will contain 2 or more of these macronutrients. For example, if you’re eating a steak, you’re not just getting protein, you’re also getting fats. And if you’re drinking milk, you’re getting fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
Related Reading: Is a Low-Carb Diet Really The Best Way to Go?
In the United States, the federal government has established recommended daily intake values for each macronutrient. (See their full publication featuring dietary guidelines here.) They are currently as follows:
- 45-65% carbohydrates
- 10-35% proteins
- 20-35% fats
This means that depending on your individual needs and goals, you should be getting mostly carbohydrates, then a mix of fats and proteins every day.
Where It Gets Tricky
There are problems with knowing just your recommended daily macronutrient intakes. The suggested ranges are pretty big. Here are a few problems I see:
- How do you know what’s right for your health conditions or gender?
- How do you account for lifestyle aspects (i.e. working a desk job vs. physical)?
- How do you know what combination of macronutrients will help you with your fitness goals?
- How do you know exactly what combination of macronutrients you’re getting with each food choice you make?
- How do you know what TYPE of carb, protein, or fat to eat?
That’s a lot to consider. Here are a few suggestions before we start talking about good fats versus bad fats:
- Consult with your doctor if you have questions about dietary intake of if you have special needs.
- Keep track of your food with MyFitnessPal to get macro breakdowns for each food choice.
- As long as you’re within the recommended macro ranges, you can play around with different amounts to see what works for you.
- Consult MyPlate to learn about the good versus “bad” foods.
Related Reading: Want to Stop Overeating? Read THIS Book.
Why Good Fats in General Are Important
In the body, fats are stored as energy. Even though you can use carbohydrates as energy, your fat reserves can provide up to about 100,000 calories worth of fats. On the other hand, carbs are only stored up to about 1,500 calories. (That means that once your carbs have been used up, your body will start to burn fat.)
- supply essential fatty acids
- protect organs
- absorb and transport important vitamins
Types of Fats
If you’ve ever heard about fats being bad, you’ll definitely want to get the scoop here. A lot of people mistakingly blame fat for weight gain or other health issues, but the truth is that fat is needed. That is, good fats are needed.
We are now beginning to acknowledge fat’s important role – for awhile many fad diets really gave even good fats a bad name.
Since it’s recommended that you get 20-35% of your calories from fat each day, it’s important to know what kinds of fats you should be eating. You may have heard that fats from things like nuts and avocados are good fats (they are) but what about the rest of your foods? What kinds of fats are there?
There are four major types of fats. They are:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
- Saturated fats
- Trans fats
If you do nothing else (and were to stop reading here) you could look at this list and just divide it in half. At the top of the list you have the best types of fats (good fats) and at the bottom are the worst types of fats. Saturated and Trans fats are considered “worst” and the others are “good fats.” If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: unsaturated fats are good…the rest are bad! So if you’re going to start reading food labels, pay attention to that!
But What Do These Names Mean?
Often, saturated and trans fats are accompanied by loads of sugar and sodium. But that’s not what makes them “bad.” How each fat affects the body is what’s important.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are those that have double bonds (one or more) in their carbon chains. These “good fats” are associated with lowered risk for heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and hypertension. Polyunsaturated fats are the category in which healthy Omega-3s are found, which are important fatty acids that we can’t create alone. (They need to be consumed.)
On the other hand, saturated and trans fats are associated with an increase in bad cholesterol and an increase in heart disease risk. Add in the fact that they are usually coupled with tons of sugar and sodium, and we’ve got nothing but bad news.
How Do I Know What Fats Are In My Food?
Nutrition labels are required for packaged foods. Here’s the FDA’s example:
Notice how fat is a general category, then saturated and trans fats are listed below. 4 grams of fat were listed, 1.5 of which were saturated and 0 of which were trans. That means that the remaining 2.5 grams came from either poly or monounsaturated fats – which are the good fats we’re after. The lower the saturated and trans fats, the better.
Tips for Reducing Saturated & Trans Fat Intake
Most of us consume animal products daily. That means that we are consuming trans and saturated fats all of the time. Since the protein and carbohydrates that animal products can provide are important in moderation, most of us don’t want to totally eliminate these foods.
If you’re going to consume things like milk, meats, and cheeses, there is one major change you can make to be healthier.
Opting for lower-fat options can help you lower your fat intake, even if you’re still getting some saturated or trans fats. You still get the protein and/or carbs you need, but some of the fat has been removed. Then you have more room for good fats like those in nuts and fish.
Related Reading: 15 Small Changes to Make When You’re Trying to Lose Weight
The Overall Takeaway
If the fats you are consuming come from plants or fish, they are more likely to be good for you. If they are coming from processed foods or mostly from animal products, they are to be consumed in moderation. You can use the chart featured above to help you get the gist of what kinds of foods provide good fats. But remember: your body needs fat! I hope you don’t still think of fat as “the bad guy.”
Did you learn anything about fats today? Let me know if this helped by leaving a comment below!