What are dietary fats and why do we need them?



There is a lot of talk in the media about dietary fats and it can all get a bit confusing. Which fats should I choose, which fats are healthy, and which are not? But what actually is a dietary fat?

A dietary fat is a macro-nutrient that is essential for life. There are several different kinds of dietary fats and diet culture likes to make it as simple as "good" fats and "bad" fats. Of course, it's not that simple. The different types of fats are monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. Mono-saturated and poly-saturated fats are plant based and are liquid at room temperature. Olive oil is an example of a monounsaturated fat, sunflower oil is a polyunsaturated fat. Saturated fats tend to be animal fats, like butter or lard. Coconut oil is an exception as it is a plant-based oil, but it is a saturated fat. Trans fats or trans-fatty acids, are a form of unsaturated fat and it comes in both natural and artificial forms. The natural forms are in dairy and meat products, the unnatural forms are found in highly processed foods.


Dietary fats are digested in the stomach and in the small intestine. They take longer to be digested and absorbed which causes the stomach contents to empty slower. So including dietary fats as part of a meal or snack makes you feel fuller for longer. Fats are absorbed through the intestine and then they travel throughout the body and deliver energy to tissue, organs, and muscles. When fat is absorbed it will either be stored in fat cells for later or used for energy or building things, like cell membranes and bile salts.


Here are some of the main benefits of fats and why we need them in our diet;

· Fats provide energy and are an important storage form of energy for our body.

· Stored fat also aids in body temperature regulation. People with very low body fat can feel cold all the time.

· Fats moisturize the skin and keep our hair and nails glowing.

· Fats make up all cell membranes and keep our cells healthy.

· Fats enhance the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, K. Without dietary fats, we cannot absorb these essential vitamins.

· Dietary fats are a precursor for sex hormones and cortisol. Without enough fat in our diet we cannot make these hormones.

· Fats aid in nerve conduction and without it, our nervous system would malfunction.

· Fats in a meal promote satiety because they take longer to digest thus keeping you full for longer. They also trigger the release of leptin which acts on the brain to increase or decrease appetite.

· And of course, fats enhance the taste and texture of food.


If you don't eat enough dietary fat you are more likely to be hungry soon after eating, think about food more often, feel like you're eating all the time, struggle with glucose instability, absorb less vitamins A, D, E, and K,experience less satisfaction with food, have dry skin, brittle hair and nails. You may also experience higher levels of anxiety and depression. As a female you may lose your regular period and both men and women can experience low libido.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that you consume more poly- and monounsaturated fats and have less of the saturated and trans fats. This is good advice, however it doesn't say you should have zero saturated fats!

So although you might be tempted to only eat the poly- and monounsaturated fats, it’s okay to enjoy a variety of fats and include some saturated fats in your diet; Particularly if they come from dairy. It is keeping a balance that is key.

As an Intuitive Eater, you may well have a variety of fats in your cupboard, to use depending on what you taste you feel like and what you are cooking. At Sunny Nutrition our go to fat is olive oil, not only because it has many health benefits, but because we love the taste of it! Besides olive oil, we enjoy a wide variety of fats, including ghee, coconut oil, sunflower oil and lard and use them according to what we are cooking for the family meal.

Disclaimer: Please note that the information in this or any other blog posts on this site may not be suitable or apply to you, depending on where you’re at in your mental health and/or eating disorder/diet recovery journey. This information is for educational purposes only and not meant to be a substitute for medical or psychiatric advice. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before making any changes

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