Dietary Fats: How to Choose Right and Eat Smart
Fats, as you know, are one of the three macronutrients required by your body to function optimally. But not all fats are healthy, and it’s important that you know enough to make an informed choice about which kind to include in your diet.
How to select fats
Foods inherently contain fat as a part of their composition and can be classified into visible and invisible. Fats and oils that are used in cooking are known as visible fat. Foods such as cereals, pulses, vegetables, dairy, nuts, and seeds also contain fat and are known as invisible fat. Your overall diet should provide both visible and invisible fat.
Fats, based on their chemical composition, can be further classified into saturated, unsaturated and trans fats. Usually, foods have various types of fats, with only a single type present in a dominant form.
The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), India, recommends moderate consumption of saturated fats — it should be less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. For instance, someone on a 2,000kcal diet may consume up to 200kcal or 22g of saturated fat in a day (1g fat = 9kcal). You could look to split this among your all meals of the day.
Check out how much saturated fat some of our common foods contain:
Coconut oil and palm oil are plant-based sources. Fruits and nuts also contain some amount of saturated fat, though not in significant quantities. Animal sources are butter, cheese, ice-cream, and red meat (mutton, beef). Packaged foods like chips, biscuits, and cakes also contain saturated fat. You can check the nutrition labels of these products to know the amount of saturated fat present in them.
1. You would need to moderate the amount of saturated fat you consume through your diet. A good way to go about it is to select poultry meat like chicken and turkey over red meat like pork, mutton, and beef.
2. Avoid packaged foods (like cookies, pastries) and restaurant foods if they contain saturated fats such as butter and cheese exceeding more than 10% of your daily caloric intake.
Unsaturated fats are considered beneficial for health and further branch out into two types — monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs).
Foods like olive oil, peanuts, almonds, avocado, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are high in MUFAs. PUFAs are found in walnuts, sunflower oil, flaxseed, soybean, fatty fish, and fish oil.
PUFA further includes omega-3 and omega-6 fats. The NIN suggests that 0.5%-1% of total daily calories should include omega-3 fats and 4%-10% should be from omega-6 fats. For an individual on a 2,000kcal diet, this would be 1.1g-2.2g of omega-3 and 8.8g-22.2g of omega-6.
The following are some food sources that are rich in omega-3 and omega-6:
There are three types of omega-3 fats.
ALA: Found in plant-based sources like spinach, flaxseeds, chia seeds
EPA: Found in oily fish (mackerel, tuna, salmon), shellfish, and algae
DHA: Found in oily fish (mackerel, tuna, salmon), shellfish, and algae
EPA and DHA are vital for brain function, eye health, and may lower inflammation among various other functions. Plant-based sources of ALA are not converted effectively in the body to EPA and DHA. Vegans and vegetarians, therefore, should ensure they consume adequate amounts of foods rich in omega-3. In case of deficiencies, they might be required to take supplements containing EPA and DHA under medical supervision.
1. You may include 3-4 servings (1 serving = 100g) of dark leafy greens like spinach or kale in a week in your diet. The NIN suggests consuming one to two meals containing 100g fish like mackerel, tuna, or salmon in a week.
2. Spirulina, seaweed, and algae are concentrated sources of DHA and/ or EPA. They are available as powders, capsules, or oil (algal oil) and may be used as supplements in addition to other dietary sources of omega-3.
3. Sprinkle a teaspoon of some freshly ground flaxseed on your curries, soups, salads. Other seeds such as sunflower, pumpkin, and chia are also packed with nutrients and add a distinct nutty flavor to foods.
4. A handful of overnight-soaked nuts like almonds and walnuts may be a great addition to your breakfast oatmeal porridge or make a quick snack.
Trans fats have no nutritional benefit and may work towards lowering your HDL (or good) cholesterol and increasing your LDL (or bad) cholesterol. A person on a 2,000kcal diet is recommended to consume less than 1% trans fat of daily caloric intake (<2g).
Trans fat is mentioned on the nutrient label and should ideally be ‘0’ for a product that you decide to buy. Also, look out for ingredient labels that have trans fat mentioned as “partially hydrogenated oil” or “hydrogenated fat”.
Here are foods high in trans fats that you ought to look to minimize in your diet.
1. Avoid the consumption of baked goods (biscuits, pastries, bread, doughnuts), packaged foods (ready-to-eat foods, sweets, miscellaneous savory snacks), and deep-fried fast foods (chips, french fries).
2. Use non-hydrogenated oils instead of saturated or partially hydrogenated oils.
Lack of essential fats may have an impact on heart health, nerve and hormonal functions, fertility, and nutrient absorption. So, foregoing them entirely would definitely be detrimental to your health. On the other hand, overloading on any single type of fat is not wise either. Remember, balance is key.
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