Over the last 30+ years we’ve swung from the low-fat era in the ‘90s, followed by the days of the Atkins diet (a high fat, higher protein diet) in the early 2000’s back to moderate fat and then to an extremely high fat known as keto, today. Fat’s been praised for its role in health and demonized for being too high in calories and “bad” for your heart. If you’re feeling the fat whiplash, you’re not alone.
Nutrition research is always evolving, and we’ve learned a lot about fat over the past 30 years. So, how do you know how much fat to eat? To start, let’s break down what we know about fat.
Fat is incredibly satisfying
Fat can help you feel full for a long time because it slows digestion and plays a role in keeping your blood sugar stable. This helps you have consistent energy throughout the day. Fat also adds taste and texture to food, making it more appealing and ultimately more satisfying.
Fat is important for health
Fat is an essential macronutrient (meaning you need to eat fat to survive) that supports many body functions such as absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, supporting hormone development, storing energy, supporting healthy skin, hair, and nails, and so much more. Some fats, especially those found in fish and plant foods like nuts, seeds, avocado, and olive oil, seaweed, and salmon have been shown to support heart and brain health.
Fat has more calories by weight than carbs and protein
It’s true — fat is calorie dense. That’s why a small handful of almonds will have a similar number of calories as a large apple. But before you go reaching for the low-fat yogurt or peanut butter, remember how fat helps you feel more full and satisfied. And when you pay attention to your body’s internal hunger and fullness cues, fat can help you eat the right amount of food for your body.
So…how much fat should I eat?
It depends. There’s no one way to eat that is best for everyone and some people feel better when eating a higher fat diet than others. To figure out what’s best for you, use the following tips:
- Balance fat with fiber-rich carbs and protein. We still need carbs for energy and protein to support muscle mass, the immune system, and much more. Both fiber-rich carbs and protein help keep you full and energized, too.
- Focus on fullness and satisfaction instead of calories or fat grams. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Does full-fat yogurt satisfy me more and keep me full longer than a low-fat or fat-free yogurt?
- Does adding some walnuts or avocado to a lunch salad make it more filling?
- Does a nut and seed-filled bar like BeBOLD bars satisfy my snack craving longer than a low-fat fruit bar?
- Am I full more quickly when I add some fat to my meal?
- Feeling overfull? Maybe you went a little to heavy handed on the fat.
- Use fat for flavor and texture, and in many cases a little will go a long way. Too much fat can leave you feeling too full or a little weighed down after a meal. Because it’s digested slowly, very high fat meals may even make you a little sleepy (since your body is working hard to digest it).
Sarah Gold Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN is a registered dietitian, certified intuitive eating counselor, and the owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, a virtual private practice and nutrition communications consulting business in the suburbs of Boston. She empowers busy women to ditch diets and learn to eat to feel their best without the stress.