The Importance of Fats

The Importance of Fats

Up until recently dietary fats have gotten a bad rap. Meanwhile, carbohydrates became increasingly popular and common. Luckily, the tables are turning as we recognize the health benefits of the right fats. We all need fat in the diet, rather than limiting the total amount of fat in the diet, the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize the types of fats in the diet.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of dietary fats, the different types of fats, the health benefits of fats, and important considerations when cooking with different fats and oils.

The benefits of dietary fats

  • A concentrated source of energy providing 9 calories per gram
  • They provide building blocks for cell membranes, myelin sheath (the white layer that surrounds nerves to help with the communication between neurons), and steroid hormones
  • They slow down nutrient absorption, helping us feel full longer
  • They help carry fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • They are required for the absorption of minerals

Different types of fats

  • Fats are made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen
  • Saturated fats are “saturated” with hydrogen on each carbon, creating a straight and rigid structure that is solid at room temperature.
  • Examples of foods that provide saturated fats include butter, milk fat, cheese, animal fat, and coconut oil.
  • Unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between carbons, which results in a lack of at least 2 hydrogens. This creates a non-linear structure that allows the fat to be liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats have one double bond, and polyunsaturated fats have at least two double bonds. Examples of foods that provide unsaturated fats include olive oil, grapeseed oil, avocado, nuts, and fish.
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs) include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are two types of polyunsaturated fats that cannot be made in the body. EFAs have bunch of different health benefits, including cardiovascular health, brain health, healthy hormone balance, breast health, reducing inflammation, and promoting a healthy pregnancy and fetal development. A typical Western diet provides plenty of omega-6s, which requires us to emphasize getting more omega-3s in our diet and/or supplementing. Omega-3s include EPA and DHA and come from fatty fish.

Health benefits of olive oil

  • Significant reduction in inflammatory markers
  • Improved function of the inner lining of blood vessels

Health benefits of EPA and DHA

  • Lessens inflammatory messages
  • Enhances hormone signaling and production
  • Improves the quality of the cell membrane
  • Healthy brain aging
  • Protecting against cognitive decline and the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease
  • Effective in the therapy of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease)
  • Improved symptoms of depression

Cooking with Fats and Oils

Different fats and oils have different smoke points. Heating an oil past its smoke point can cause the fat to break down and release free radicals, which can be harmful for our health. The table below summarizes the smoke point for a few different oils and tips on how to use different oils.


If you would like to talk more about the fats in your diet and learn about what EPA/DHA supplement might be right for you, schedule an appointment with Lauren Larson, MS, RDN online or by calling the clinic at (970) 372-1277.


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