100 Days of Fitness

FAT – We need it. Why? Read on…

by Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Fat is an essential nutrient. It helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals and provides energy. Fat is a component of hormones, cell membranes and neurotransmitters. Fat also carries flavor and can add a delicious satisfaction to meals. Not all fats are created equal; choose wisely for better health.


Monounsaturated Fat – These fats are liquid at room temperature. Sources include avocados, most nuts and seeds, peanut butter, and oils such as olive, canola, safflower, and sunflower. Eat more monounsaturated fats by:

  • Adding avocado instead of cheese to salads, sandwiches, toast, and burrito bowls.
  • Eating a handful of nuts for a snack. Smear nut butter on an apple for a healthy snack.
  • Making your own salad dressing in a jar with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt & pepper. Shake it up! Try it on roasted veggies too.

Polyunsaturated Fat – These fats are also liquid at room temperature and include two essential fatty acids (required for body functions but not made by the body). There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats:

  • Omega-3 fats help prevent heart disease and stroke by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, improving blood vessel function, and possibly reducing inflammation. They may also be beneficial to a variety of other conditions such as lupus, eczema, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, and possibly cancer. Omega-3’s are found in salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, grass-fed beef, flaxseed oil, walnuts, chia seeds, and fish/krill oil supplements. Most of us would benefit from getting more omega-3’s.
  • Omega-6 fats play an important role in brain function, growth and development, bone health, metabolism, and reproduction. Omega-6’s are found in oils, nuts and seeds. Most people get more than enough omega-6 fats in their diet.

Because of their chemical structure, polyunsaturated fats are more likely to be damaged by heat, processing and oxidation. Avoid cooking these foods at high heat and eating processed foods containing vegetable oils.


Saturated Fats – These fats are solid at room temperature. Sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and full-fat dairy products, cheese, egg yolks, coconut oil, and many baked goods. These fats are the most stable at high heat.

A 2010 meta-analysis of twenty-one research studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [Coronary Heart Disease] or CVD [Cardiovascular Disease].”

For more than three decades there was a belief that saturated fat raised cholesterol and high cholesterol caused heart disease. Today, it is believed that trans-fats, refined carbohydrates, inflammation, and inactivity are more to blame.

Consider the “total package” when selecting red meat, whole milk and full-fat dairy products, eggs, and cheese. Antibiotics and hormones are commonly used in U.S. beef, dairy cows and sheep. Look for organic products (which prohibit these additions) or labels stating no antibiotics or growth hormones were used.


Trans-fats – These fats are produced when oils are chemically altered and turned into solid fats. This is called “partially hydrogenated oil” on an ingredient label and helps prevent fragile polyunsaturated oils from going rancid. Eating foods containing trans-fats increases LDL cholesterol and reduces beneficial HDL cholesterol in the body. Trans-fats also create inflammation and contribute to insulin resistance. There is no “safe level” of consumption and because of limitations in labeling laws, checking ingredient labels for “partially hydrogenated oil” is the only way to avoid trans-fats.

“How do I put this into practice,” you ask?

Take some tips from the Mediterranean. After realizing people in Mediterranean countries enjoy higher fat intake (35-40% of calories) while having a lower incidence of heart disease and cancer, the “Mediterranean Diet” became popular. The Mediterranean diet includes:

  • Abundant plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts
  • Healthy fats such as olive oil, olives and fish
  • Traditionally prepared dairy, such as yogurt and aged cheeses
  • Herbs and spices
  • Fish at least twice a week
  • Meals with family and friends
  • Wine in moderation (optional)

Want more details? Eatingwell.com has 7-days of Mediterranean inspired dinner recipes here.

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD

Lauren Squier, MPH, RD, is a Registered Dietitian, trained chef and owner of Culinary Enlightenment. Lauren’s nutrition background and culinary skills provide a unique blend of resources to help people plan meals, shop, cook, and eat better. For more than a decade, she has been teaching nutrition to children, adults and families through healthy cooking and eating.

Read more about Lauren here. Reach out to her via her website or better yet come to bootcamp and talk to her in person about your nutrition challenges. She has a lot of knowledge and is always ready to share it.