breaking it down: fats + oils

Before I even get into the nitty gritty of this post, I just want to say: fat does not make us fat. Good to get that off my chest. 🙂

Fat is crucial for several reasons such as:

  • major fuel for energy + storage
  • protects internal organs
  • cell membranes component
  • absorption of fat soluble vitamins
  • major component of hormones

Fat also help keeps us satiated so we aren’t hungry too soon after having a meal. This happens through fat’s effect on appetite-regulating hormones as well as slowing down gastric emptying (e.g. the speed at which food moves through our stomach).

This is part of the issue with some low-fat or non-fat foods. Not to say all reduced fat items are inferior, however, it’s fair to take into consideration that a full fat item is likely to keep you full longer than it’s reduced fat counterpart.

Examples of high fat foods include:

  • Nuts + seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Avocado
  • Chia + flax seeds
  • Oils: coconut oil, olive oil, etc.
  • Butter, lard, + shortening
  • Margarine
  • Salmon + tuna
  • Full-fat dairy: cheese, yogurt, milk

So how do we choose? Here are some things to take into consideration. Beware — it’s pretty science-dense. 😉

Fats vs. Oils

Fats = solid at room temperature                              Oils = liquid at room temperature

Choose the right one for the job. For example, solid fats work wonderfully in items such as pie crusts or flaky pastries because you want to utilize those chunks by allowing them to melt during cooking. This creates beautiful air pockets that we all know and love.

Saturated vs. Unsaturated

The simplest forms of fats are call fatty acids. A fatty acid’s saturation is referring to if there are double bonds or not in its structure. Unsaturated means there’s at least 1 double bond, whereas saturated means there are no double bonds.

Examples of unsaturated fats: olive oil, canola oil, fish, and nuts + seeds. Saturated fats include items such as cheese, ice cream, meat, coconut oil, and palm oil.

A note on coconut oil: there is not enough research to say if it is the best option or not. It has high levels of saturated fat, similar to butter. Some studies show that its different types of saturated fat may not be as harmful, but that’s not conclusive just yet. This is an example of better to be safe than sorry. If you like to use coconut oil from time to time, cool. But it’s not something to be dumping into our coffee every morning. 

Trans Fat

Unfortunately, trans fat was kind of a man-made oopsie. There are some naturally-occurring trans fat in meat and dairy products, but the real culprit is that found in margarines and packaged foods such as snack cakes, chips, microwave popcorn, etc. Remember those double bonds? We switched up unsaturated fats’ double bonds to create a partially hydrogenated oil. This made the oil solid, like margarine, so we could use it in place of butter. The goal was to use this in place of “unhealthy” saturated fats, but instead, we created something worse. We now know that trans fat raises bad cholesterol while also lowering good cholesterol. Yikes! The U.S. has now banned trans fats, and all must be phased out by June 2018.

Essential Fatty Acids

These are “essential” because we cannot make them in our body, so we gotta eat ‘em! There are 2 types: omega 6 + omega 3, both of which are polyunsaturated. Omega 6s are usually easy for us to get as they are found in meat and oils. Omega 3s, however, are less consumed as they are found in fatty fish (salmon, tuna), walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, etc. We need both, but the emphasis is placed on Omega 3s more often because we typically don’t get as much. Omega 3s also play a role in inflammation so that’s wonderful! 🙂


When you go to the doctor and they discuss your blood cholesterol levels, that cholesterol is different than the dietary cholesterol we eat in foods such as eggs. We now know that dietary cholesterol has very little effect our blood cholesterol levels. Other fats do, though. For example, saturated fats increase our total cholesterol, bad cholesterol (LDL), + good cholesterol (HDL). Unsaturated fats lower both total cholesterol and bad cholesterol, then, can either raise or lower good cholesterol depending on the type.

So what does all this mean?

Our current recommendations indicate getting a majority of our fat(15-20% of total energy intake) from the unsaturated sources, what many call “healthy” fats. There’s still room for a bit of saturated fat (7-10%), however, just not in the same quantity as the other. Finally, trans fat is the odd man out that doesn’t have much room in our diet long-term (<1%).

So if you like using butter in your pie crust, coconut oil in your brownies, extra virgin olive oil on your salad + sesame oil in your stir fry — go for it! We are aiming for variety + balance!

Source for this post + additional information on dietary fat recommendations.


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    1. Thank you for the sweet comment! I love the science, too, but never want to overwhelm people with TOO many details! 😉

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