Together with carbohydrate and protein, fat is one of the three primary macronutrients that make up the calories we consume.
As you may know, fat can be used by the body as an energy source and has a multitude of bodily health benefits.
Some of the fatty acids in your diet are classified as essential nutrients and cannot be produced from scratch in the body. This means your system requires a certain amount of fat every day in order to survive, sustain healthy hormonal status, manufacture structurally sound cell membranes, and support proper nutrient absorption.
For many of you out there turning to veganism or vegetarianism this month, you may find that your intake of fats has changed, whether its increased, decreased or diversified. You may have begun eating more unsaturated fats from nuts and seeds, less fat in general due to reduced saturated fat consumption, or you may, in fact, be eating fats from other food sources, which you are newly introducing to your diet. However, none of these options are necessarily entirely right or wrong.
Essentially, there are four main categories of FAT we typically tend to eat in our modern day diet:
- SATURATED FATS
- MONOUNSATURATED FATS
- POLYUNSATURATED FATS
- TRANS FATS
In the landscape of fats, it can be challenging to distinguish the good from the bad. So if you are switching up your diet this month or year, and deciding to cut out animal products, then see my top tips below to ensure you are consuming the right fats for a vegan and well-balanced diet.
Monounsaturated fats can be found in many plant-based foods and have a wide variety of health benefits including aiding with weight balance, heart health, inflammation and even mood and brain function.
Reach for monounsaturated in their whole food forms or in the least processed varieties as possible such as:
- Olive Oil – try to get EVOO
- Pumpkin seeds
We should be aiming for about 3 tsps. (12g) of monounsaturated fat at each meal and if following a vegan or vegetarian diet, increasing this to 4 tsps. (16g) to ensure we are getting enough fat to keep us fuelled.
Omega 3 and omega 6 fats, which you may have heard of before, are our polyunsaturated fats. They are vitamin-like in that they are required for our survival and normal metabolism, as building blocks for our cell membranes, the transportation and oxidation of cholesterol, hormone production, cognitive function and many other processes.
The most well-known sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fish oil and fatty fish like salmon, trout and tuna. Therefore, it can be troublesome to include sufficient omega 3 in a vegan or vegetarian diet.
Plant-based omega 3 rich foods tend to be high in ALA, a form of omega 3 that is not readily broken down into EPA and DHA, the active components of omega 3 fats. Therefore, it is important to be eating large amounts of ALA containing plant foods if you are vegan or vegetarian, to ensure you are getting the correct amount.
Omega 3 vegan sources include: Chia, flax seeds, walnuts and Brussel sprouts!
There are now a number of different supplement brands on the market that have created Omega 3’s for vegans that are based on algae forms of omega 3, such as Hello Day Vegan Omega 3 – Brain & Heart Maintain.
The guidance on saturated fat is a little more complicated. Previous research had suggested that saturated fat had negative effects on your health, raised your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and was one of the main factors to blame for the rise in cardiovascular disease. However, newer information suggests it has a more neutral (and a little beneficial) effect. The topic is somewhat controversial among those in the nutrition field. A general rule of thumb – aim for no more than 30% of your intake of fats to come from saturated fats.
Most animal products such as dairy and meat contain saturated fats, thus if you are following a vegan or plant-based diet, you will automatically reduce a large amount of saturated fat in your diet.
However, you can add some healthy saturated fats into your diet that are entirely plant-based such as coconut oil and cocoa butter. Coconut oil has a high smoke point (which means its hydrogen bonds remain intact in higher heats than other oils, and therefore avoid becoming oxidised and causing harm in the body) and this is a great option for cooking any foods at high heat.
Trans fats, or trans fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat.
Unlike saturated fats, which have no double bonds, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond in their chemical structure. Natural trans fats have been part of the human diet ever since we began consuming animals and their produce.
These trans fats typically make up 2-5% of the fat in dairy products and 3-9% of the fat in most red meat.
Although there are some benefits to natural trans fats, the same things cannot be said about artificial trans fats. These fats are created by injecting hydrogen molecules into vegetable oils. This changes the chemical structure of the oil, turning it from a liquid into a solid. After they have been hydrogenated, the vegetable oils have a much longer shelf life and are solid at room temperature, with a consistency similar to saturated fats. Think vegetable oils, sunflower oil, canola oil, margarine etc.
These artificial trans fats can wreak havoc in the body, increasing the odds of bodily inflammation, insulin resistance, weight gain etc.
So If you are starting a vegan or vegetarian diet, there is little need to actually replace the trans fats you may no longer be consuming. Instead, focus on adding in more of the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
By ensuring you have adequate amounts of good quality fat in the diet, you are less likely to feel hungry later on in the day, which may help curb weight gain and cravings. So instead of adding in extra carbohydrates or reaching for snacks, increase good quality fats in your food to fuel your food.
If you want to make sure you are getting the correct blend of macro and micronutrients when changing your diet, please get in touch with me to find out how I can help you achieve a well balanced, delicious and healthy diet.