Today’s Basics topic is all about fat! We’ve covered other macronutrients here on the Nutrition Stripped blog such as carbohydrates, protein, and digestion, and now the list is growing! Out of all the macronutrients, people have the most misconceptions about by fat! Today I’m sharing a breakdown of food sources of healthy fats, the function of fat in the human body, how fats are digested, and how our bodies store fat. If I haven’t lost you yet, keep reading on to learn the basics of healthy fat from a dietitian’s point of view. Let’s jump in!
Cheese is an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids, and it helps slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, leading to consistent energy levels and improved brain function. It may also help lower your risk of diabetes: people who eat a lot of high-fat dairy products actually have the lowest incidence of diabetes, according to a 2015 study of 26,930 people in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Those who ate a lot of low-fat dairy products had the highest incidence. The researchers speculated that while calcium, protein, vitamin D and other nutrients in cheese are indeed good for us, we need the fat that goes along with them in order to get their protective effects. Just make sure it’s real, full-fat cheese and not wood chips.
Out of all the fish in the sea, tuna is one of the highest sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid. Canned light tuna is one of the best and most affordable fish for weight loss, especially from your belly! One study in the Journal of Lipid Research showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation had the profound ability to turn off abdominal fat genes. And while you’ll find two types of fatty acids in cold water fish and fish oils—DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—researchers say DHA can be 40 to 70 percent more effective than EPA at regulating fat genes in the abdomen, preventing belly fat cells from expanding in size.
Cheese often gets a bad-rap for being a high-fat food—especially hard, full-fat cheeses like Parmesan. While it is true that cheeses have more saturated fats than plant based foods, they (especially Parmesan, which contains 8 grams fat and 5 grams saturated fat per ounce), provide loads of other nutrients as well. In fact, Parm tops the cheese charts in terms of its bone-building calcium content, providing nearly a third of your daily calcium needs. Ounce for ounce, it has more protein than any other food—and yes, we are including meat and eggs on that list!
Remember pancreatic lipase from earlier in the duodenum? Well, lipoprotein lipase breaks down triglycerides for absorption which goes into the fat tissue for storage, or it’ll be absorbed in muscle tissue for energy. Where do the chylomicrons go? Basically, they shrink so much that they just become tiny little particles that used to be. They’re absorbed into the liver and then the liver metabolizes them. The liver is key for fat metabolism! Liver health = fat digestion efficiency = healthy fat burning potential.
Many people also wonder: is cheese bad for you? Like other dairy products, not all cheese is created equal, but it can be part of a nutritious, well-rounded diet. Ideally, look for varieties that are raw, minimally processed and derived from grass-fed animals. Feta, goat, ricotta and cottage cheese are a few of the top healthiest cheese options available.
Red meat provides us with healthy fats, in particular, conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA—the trans fat that actually helps improve heart health and reduce belly fat—and stearic acid, a saturated fat that actually reduces LDL cholesterol. But grass-fed beef is even better than what you’ve traditionally been grabbing. In fact, a study in Nutrition Journal found that grass-fed beef is higher in CLA, stearic acid, and omega-3 fatty acid (because grass contains ALA and corn does not), and lower in unhealthy palmitic acid, than conventionally raised beef. And when it comes to your waistline, grass-fed beef is naturally leaner and has fewer calories than conventional meat.
Go nuts! Polyunsaturated fats in nuts activate genes that reduce fat storage and improve insulin metabolism. At about 13 grams per one-ounce serving, walnuts are one of the best dietary sources (they also have more omega-3 fatty acids than any other nut). A small Pennsylvania State study found that a diet rich in walnuts and walnut oil may help the body respond better to stress and can also help keep diastolic blood pressure levels down.
Polyunsaturated fats can primarily be found in plant-based foods and oils. Similar to monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering levels of blood cholesterol (9). A certain type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be particularly beneficial for heart health. They not only lower the risk of coronary artery disease but can also lower blood pressure and protect against irregular heartbeats (9). Omega-3 fatty acids can be easily consumed by eating fatty fish such as salmon, sardines and trout.