Mountaintop Medicine: Nutrition Notes — The Truth about Fats

Hello! For this week’s topic on Nutrition Notes, I would like to discuss the truth about fats- what they are and why they are an important part of our diet.

Leah Gardner, EPH Registered Dietitian

When it comes to health and nutrition, fat gets a bad rep. Time and time again, I meet clients who fear fat and will go to the ends of the Earth to avoid them in their diet. Little did these clients know that fat is an extremely vital component of our bodies. They provide energy, help us absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, E, D, and K, and heavily support our brain function. Each one of our cells is made up of a fatty membrane that is protective against toxins such as heavy metals like lead and mercury, pesticides, and certain chemicals found in cleaning products and cosmetics, as well as so many others. This helps to keep our skin, hair, and nails healthy and shiny. Fats also play a significant role in the synthesis and regulation of our hormones.

It is true that not all fats are created equal, but each type of fat plays a crucial role in our diets.

The Different Types of Fat

1. Monounsaturated Fat: Research has shown that eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk for heart disease. These foods include nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed butters, and avocadoes.

2. Polyunsaturated Fat: These fats are known as “essential fats” because the body cannot make them and must get them from food. Like monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat can decrease your risk for heart disease and other types of chronic diseases. A certain type of this fat, called omega-3 fatty acids, has been shown to be particularly beneficial for your heart and brain function. Omega-3s appear to not only decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, but they also help lower blood pressure levels and guard against irregular heart rates. Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, sardines, and trout, as well as walnuts, chia seeds, and flax seeds.

3. Saturated Fat: These fats come from animal fats in meats and dairy products such as fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb, dark chicken meat and poultry skin, high fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream), tropical oils (coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter), and lard. Saturated fats are a controversial topic in the nutrition world. Studies have varied conclusions on the effect of saturated fat intake on our overall health. But recent studies have shown that saturated fats do not increase our risk for chronic disease. Just like any other food, saturated fats should be eaten in moderation to be included in a general, healthy diet.

4. Trans-Fat: Short for “trans fatty acids,” trans-fat appears in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. You might find trans-fat in fried foods (French fries, doughnuts, deep-fried fast foods), margarine (stick and tub), vegetable shortening, baked goods (cookies, cakes, pastries), and in processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn). These fats should be avoided as they increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Do not forget to incorporate healthy fats in every meal to boost your overall health. In addition, remember to include a variety of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins in your diet. I offer outpatient nutrition counseling and education services at Estes Park Health. If you are interested, contact your healthcare provider for a referral. If you have any questions or if there are any nutrition-related topics that you would like me to discuss here on Nutrition Notes, please reach out at