This week I am talking about dietary fat, the last of the macronutrients. Fats are another nutrient discussed as being a problem in the typical western diet. And I definitely agree that it is often a problem for many of us. We are consuming too many saturated fats and not enough of the healthy fats, or we are over consuming fats in general. Eating in this manner potentially leads to weight gain and/or problems. It is really important to note two things. First, any amount of excess calories whether it’s from fat, carbohydrates or protein will lead to weight gain. Second, when looking at dietary fat in your diet, it’s important to consider the types of fats you are ingesting. A simple change in the types of fats you are consuming can improve your health.
Healthy food includes eating fat
Fats have a function in the body and should be included as part of a healthy diet.
- Provide energy for the body
- Provide insulation by keeping you warm in cold weather
- Protect bones and internal organs from injury
- Provide absorption and transportation of fat-soluble vitamins to the body
- Improves the flavor and mouthfeel of foods and increases satiety
Types of fat
One thing that makes fat so confusing is that there isn’t just one. There are actually several different categories of fat which are determined by the chemical structure of the fat. Surprisingly each of these fats have very different effects on the body, some positive and some negative.
Trans fats are manufactured fats created when a hydrogen is added to make an unsaturated fat more saturated. They appear soft or solid at room temperature. The primary sources of trans fats are margarine, shortening and processed foods. These are the worst fats for you because they raise LDL cholesterol in blood AND also decrease the HDL cholesterol. The HDL cholesterol is the good stuff. It helps remove the other cholesterol in our arteries. This leads to a greater increase of cholesterol in the blood.
Saturated fats appear solid when at room temp. The primary sources of this fat are animals (beef, lamb and pork), butter and other dairy, coconut oil and palm oil. They do not have any positive effect on the body and primarily lead to increasing cholesterol in the blood. It is fine to eat these fats but in small amounts.
Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temp and most often found in sunflower oil, corn oil, safflower oil, fish oil. They decrease LDL cholesterol which is great but unfortunately, they also decrease the HDL and so if you are eating more polyunsaturated vs monounsaturated fats the positive effect may be diminished.
Monounsaturated fats – These are the healthiest fats you can choose, and they are also liquid at room temp. This fat is found in nuts, avocados, olives, olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil. They have a double positive effect in the body. They decrease LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff) in blood and improves HDL (the good stuff) blood cholesterol production.
Recommendations on fat consumption
It is important to remember that fat is much more calorie dense than other macronutrients. Protein and carbohydrates contribute 4 calories per gram while fats contribute 9 calories per gram.
I make the following recommendations based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:
- If you are eating more than 30% of your daily calories as fats, the sources over the 30% need to be monounsaturated fats rather than polyunsaturated fats.
- Regardless of the percentage of fat you consume, limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calorie intake.
- Avoid trans fats as much as possible.
There are two fats that are considered essential, meaning our body can’t make them so it is necessary for us to include them in our diets. Both of these essential fats are part of the polyunsaturated fat family.
Omega 3 or alpha-linolenic fatty acid is found most commonly in cold-water fish – salmon, tuna, mackerel, sardines – walnuts, flaxseed, hemp oil, canola oil and soybean oil. Their function in the body is still being studied but it is believed that they reduce the inflammation response, thin the blood to keep it from clotting and attaching to the walls of your arteries, prevent hardening of arteries, reduce plasma triglycerides and total cholesterol. The recommendation for ensuring your body gets the appropriate levels of this nutrient is to eat two servings of cold-water fish a week. However, if you do not eat fish, I suggest tracking your dietary intake using a food tracker such as MyFitnessPal or Chronometer for a week or so to see if you are getting enough from the other foods you are eating.
Omega 6 or linolenic fatty acid is most commonly found in beef, poultry, safflower oil, sunflower oil and corn oil. This fatty acid is suspected to regulate blood pressure and increase blood clotting. This essential fatty acid is most often not a nutrient of concern for most people. Actually, there is suspicion that many of us actually consume too much omega-6 and that there may be a negative effect on the body’s ability process the omega-3 fatty acid we consume.
Using oils in cooking
All oils have a smoking point. This designation means that this the point where the oil begins to smoke and begins to lose its quality. Overheating oils alters the taste and flavor of the food negatively. It also degrades the nutritional benefit of that oil and creates free radicals which are damaging to the body.
Most cooking done in the home on the stove and oven are done at temperatures between 250 – 400 degrees F. With that in mind the following are some of the recommended oils that are best to use when cooking within these temperatures. These oils are considered to have high smoke points (+400 degrees F).
- Canola Oil
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Light Olive Oil
- Safflower oil
- Sesame oil
- Sunflower oil
Most of the time, I use canola oil and extra-virgin olive oil in my own cooking and in the recipes on the blog. Sesame oil is another oil that I use when cooking asian style dishes or when the flavor of the sesame oil is desired. It has a strong flavor so I only use it when that flavor will complement the dish. You will also see me use it in a smaller amount combined with a healthier oil such as EEVO or canola oil.
Also, it is important to note that oils do not last forever. They do breakdown from heat and light over time and may develop an off-taste from the free radicals that develop in the oil. I recommend storing cooking oils in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.
Smart Fat Exchanges
- Replace consumption of meats such as pork, lamb and beef that contain higher amounts of saturated fats with plant-based foods, fish or chicken
- Eliminate consumption of trans fats as much as possible. These are most often found in processed foods so be sure to check the nutrition label and ingredient list on these foods. If the words, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil appears, you should look for an alternative when possible.
- Replace butter in sautéing with liquid oil, preferably one of the monounsaturated varieties.
- Consider low fat options with dairy products to reduce total fat and saturated fat consumption.
- Remember that fats add calories so using the smallest amount possible is best.
- Change method of food preparation to one that doesn’t require added fat such as baking, broiling and steaming. You can use herbs and spices to add flavor.
Now let’s cook
Chili Lime Fish with Mango Avocado Salsa
A little bit sweet, a little bit spicy and full of healthy fats.
- 4 - 6 oz fish fillets (any coldwater fish such as salmon, tuna, bonito, mackerel)
- Zest and juice of 1 lime
- ¼ - ½ tsp aji panca*
- 2 tsp olive oil, separated
- 1 avocado
- ½ mango
- 1 small spicy pepper (aji Amarillo, jalapeno or serrano)
- ½ cup cilantro leaves
- ½ small red onion
- 4-8 lime wedges for garnish
- Step 1 Lightly spray pan or dish with cooking spray. Layout fish fillets on a baking dish or pan with skin side down. Brush 1 tsp of olive oil on fillets and rub lime zest and sprinkle with aji panca.
- Step 2 Place in the oven to cook. Cooking time is based on the thickness of the fish fillet. Fish fillets 1” thick will need about 10 minutes in the oven to cook and if they are thicker a bit longer.*
- Step 3 Make the salsa while the fish is cooking. Place in a small mixing bowl as you prepare. Peel and deseed the avocado and dice into small pieces. Peel and dice the mango into small pieces next.
- Step 4 When preparing the pepper, be sure to remove the seeds and chop into small pieces. I suggest adding more or less depending on your desired spice. Chop the cilantro and red onion into small pieces as well. Once all ingredients are in the bowl, add fresh lime juice from the same lime used to zest, 1 tsp olive oil and mix to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Step 5 Once the fish is ready, remove from oven and serve topped with mango salsa and additional lime slices.
Aji panca is a spice used frequently in Peruvian cooking. If you are unable to find in the grocery store, it is available here through Amazon.
Cooking time will vary depending on the oven, desired doness and the thickness of the fish. I suggest measuring the thickness of the fish you are cooking to calculate the cooking time. It will take about 4-6 minutes per ½” thickness.
**Nutritional Facts were calculated using recipe input in MyFitnessPal. No data was available on Vitamin D in this recipe.
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