Dietary fats often get a bad rap. Despite what you may have heard, eating fat does not make you fat, provided you do it in moderation. In fact, fats are an essential part of a balanced diet. Your body needs dietary fat for many different biological processes. If you don’t eat enough fat, your body will have a harder time functioning as it should and this can lead to health problems.
In this article, we’ll look at five signs that you may not be getting enough fat, especially healthy fats, in your diet. We’ll also look at the role fat plays in your body and how to build a balanced diet.
- 1 Why do you need fats in your diet?
- 2 Types of Dietary Fats
- 3 How do you know if you’re not getting enough fat in your diet?
- 4 Tips for a more balanced diet
- 5 To remember
Why do you need fats in your diet?
Your body needs dietary fat for many biological processes. You couldn’t live a healthy life without them. Here are some of the essential roles that dietary fat plays in your body:
It helps you absorb vitamins
Vitamins A, D, E, and K are fat-soluble, which means your body can only absorb them if you consume them with fat. A lack of fats in your diet can lead to deficiencies in these vitamins, which can lead to various health issues.
Promotes cell growth
Fat provides the structure for the outer membrane of every cell in your body.
Promotes brain and eye health
Omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), help support the health of the brain, central nervous system and retina. Your body does not manufacture these fatty acids. You can only get them through your diet.
Essential fatty acids play a key role in wound healing and blood clotting.
Your body needs dietary fat to make specific hormones, including the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen.
Each gram of fat you eat gives you about 9 calories of energy. For comparison, each gram of carbohydrate or protein only provides 4 calories of energy.
Types of Dietary Fats
Dietary fats can be divided into four categories: trans fats, saturated fats, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
Trans fats, found primarily in partially hydrogenated oils, are the least healthy type of fat for the body. Hydrogenated oils are often used to improve the taste and shelf life of processed foods. Your body does not need trans fats. Eating a lot of this type of fat can increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats can be found in:
– processed foods (like frozen pizzas and crisps)
– baked goods (cakes and cookies bought in stores)
– fried foods (like donuts and fries)
To find out if a food product contains trans fatty acids, you can read the ingredient list on the package. If partially hydrogenated oil is listed as an ingredient, it is best to avoid the product.
Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products such as meat, eggs and dairy products. These fats tend to be solid at room temperature.
It is recommended to consume less than 10% of your daily calories as saturated fat. Current research suggests that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat is associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Monounsaturated fats can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels in the blood. It can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Unlike saturated fats, monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Foods that are a good source of this type of fat are:
– vegetable oils (such as olive oil, sesame oil and safflower oil)
– nuts (almonds, peanuts, walnuts and cashews)
– nut butters (like peanut butter and almond butter)
– the lawyers
Your body cannot make polyunsaturated fats, so you need to get them from the foods you eat. These fats are also called “essential fats”. Omega-3 fatty acids are a special type of polyunsaturated fat that may help reduce the risk of heart disease, protect against irregular heartbeats, and lower your blood pressure.
You can find omega-3 fatty acids in the following foods:
– fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines)
– chia seeds
To help you stay healthy, most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated.
How do you know if you’re not getting enough fat in your diet?
Dietary fat deficiencies are rare in healthy people who eat a balanced, nutritious diet. However, certain conditions can put you at risk of fat deficiency, such as:
– eating disorders
– resection of a large intestine (colectomy)
– inflammatory bowel disease
– cystic fibrosis
– pancreatic insufficiency
– an extremely low-fat diet
If you don’t eat enough dietary fat, some biological processes in your body may not work as well.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs that your diet isn’t getting enough fat.
1 Vitamin deficiencies
Your body needs dietary fat to help it absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Insufficient intake of these essential nutrients can, among other things, increase the risk of:
– night blindness
– swollen gums
– easy bruising
– dry hair
– loose teeth
– muscle aches
– blood clots under fingernails
– Dermatitis (inflammation of the skin)
Fats are an essential part of the structure of skin cells and help the skin maintain its moisture barrier. If you don’t eat enough dietary fat, it can affect your skin health and lead to dermatitis. It is a general term to describe inflamed skin. Dermatitis caused by dietary fat deficiency often presents as dry, scaly rashes.
2 Slow wound healing
Your body needs fat to create many important molecules that control your body’s inflammatory response. Low dietary fat intake could disrupt this response and lead to slow wound healing. Deficiencies in fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A and vitamin D can also slow wound healing.
3 Hair loss
Fatty molecules in your body called prostaglandins promote hair growth. Consuming too few essential fats could alter your hair texture, and research suggests it could also increase the risk of hair loss on your scalp or eyebrows.
4 Common diseases
Severe restriction of fat intake can weaken your immune system and lead to more frequent illnesses. Your body needs dietary fat to produce several molecules that stimulate the activity of your immune cells. Essential fatty acids are also important for the growth of immune cells. For this, your body needs in particular alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid.
Tips for a more balanced diet
Aim to consume up to 35% of your calories as fat. That means
up to 97 grams of fat per day for a 2,500 calorie diet
up to 66 grams of fat per day for a 2,000 calorie diet
about 50 grams of fat per day for a 1,500 calorie diet.
But not all fats are created equal. Whenever possible, it is best to avoid consuming foods containing trans fatty acids.
You can include some saturated fats in your diet, such as eggs, meat, or dairy products. But try to get most of your fat intake from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated sources such as:
olives and olive oil
nuts and seeds
fatty fish and fish oil
Your body needs dietary fat for many biological processes. If you don’t get enough fat in your diet, you can experience symptoms like dry rashes, hair loss, a weaker immune system, and problems with vitamin deficiencies. To help you stay healthy, most of the fat you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fat. These fats are commonly found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and avocados.