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5 Facts about Dietary Fats and Healthy Eating

A balanced diet is the core tenet of healthy eating. However, there are many myths surrounding dietary fats and if they can be part of a healthy diet. In some cases, fats should be eaten sparingly. In other situations, a high-fat diet can actually contribute to weight loss and improved health.

Here are five facts on the role of fats in nutrition.

1. Fats are a source of energy.

Fats are the densest nutritional source of calories. One pound of fat contains nearly double the ideal daily caloric intake of an average person. The body continues these calories as fuel. The body burns fat during long and low-intensity periods of exercise. Fats also power many automatic bodily processes, including digestion and hormone production. However, if the body cannot use all of the fat it consumes, it gets stored in adipose cells.

The body breaks down stored fat through a process called metabolic system. The metabolism’s efficiency is based on several factors, including genetics, activity level, and sleep health. The metabolism breaks fat cells down into smaller components that are transported to the organs and muscles. Individuals can force their bodies to metabolize stored fat by reducing their caloric intake and increasing their activity levels.

2. There are many types of dietary fats.

The fats found in food come in three distinct categories. All fats are made up of hydrocarbon chains. With saturated fat, every carbon molecule is paired with a hydrogen atom. This makes it very stable and solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are most abundant in meat and animal-derived products like cheese and eggs. However, some natural oils also contain saturated fats.

In unsaturated fats, some carbons do not have an attached hydrogen atom. These fats are primarily derived from plants and come in two additional types. Monounsaturated fats have only one double bond connecting the hydrocarbon chain. This makes the fat molecule form an L-shape. Polyunsaturated fats have at least two bonds. Unsaturated fats turn liquid at room temperature.

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fat that is present in some dairy and meat products. However, processed foods contain a man-made form of trans fat. Like monounsaturated fats, trans fats only have a single bond. However, the placement of the bond makes the molecule form a kink. This makes artificial trans fats behave more like saturated fat at room temperature.

3. High-fat diets lead to chronic health problems.

For many years, public health organizations recommended daily limits for dietary fats. Eating a high-fat diet can increase the prevalence of low-density lipoproteins (LDL), a type of cholesterol, in the body. LDLs are sticky substances that can accumulate in the arteries. As a result, the arteries become narrow. This contributes to cardiovascular problems and increases the risk of stroke. High LDL levels can also increase the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Consuming too much fat can also lead to weight gain. If the body doesn’t burn excess fat, it causes adipose cells to get bigger and multiply. When adipose tissue increases around the waist, it surrounds the internal organs with a thick layer of fat. A wider waist circumference is correlated with a higher risk of certain cancers and heart diseases.

4. Certain fats are beneficial in moderation.

Distinguishing between good and bad fats is important, but unsaturated fats are generally considered a healthier source of energy. Many unsaturated fats are essential for maintaining homeostasis. Additionally, unsaturated fats increase the presence of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) in the body. HDLs can reduce LDL levels by breaking the molecules down and removing them from the body.

One type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3, is particularly beneficial for the body. The body can only absorb omega-3 fats from food such as oily fish and seeds. Omega-3 fats can mitigate chronic health problems by supporting liver function, reducing blood pressure, and lowering bad cholesterol. Due to the health benefits of some fats, modern dietary guidelines do not limit suggested daily intake levels for fat.

5. Fat is an important part of a balanced diet.

Since fat is an important source of energy, everyone must include some fat in their diets. However, keeping saturated and trans-fats to a minimum is key to overall health. Nutrition experts recommend that between a fifth and a third of calories in our diets should come from fats. However, only 10 percent of this should come from saturated fats. Instead, health experts recommend consuming unsaturated fats from a mixture of nuts, some vegetable oils, avocados, and fish.

There are a few fad diets, like keto and Atkins, which recommend a combination of high-fat and low-carbohydrate foods. However, these diets often restrict saturated and trans fats due to the limitation of carbohydrates and proteins.


Dietary fats play a complex role in nutrition, but understanding what foods are good for you doesn't have to be hard. Individuals should take into consideration their age, health goals, dietary restrictions, and physical activity levels when determining their ideal daily fat intake. However, most people will benefit from simply reducing their consumption of fats from processed foods.

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