By Sherry Coleman Collins, MS, RDN, LD
Many people are confused about fat. They don’t know if they should avoid or eat fat, what kind are good or bad, how much they should or shouldn’t eat. While it may seem like recommendations are frequently changing, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans serves as a consistent and reliable source of information. Some of this is because the science is updating us as we learn more about fatty acids and their impact on health. And with so much media attention, it is important for consumers to know the connections between food and health. The consumer has to work to keep up with current nutritional information. It can be hard to keep up!
The short answer is that you don’t need to be afraid of fat. Some fat in your diet is essential and it is important to keep calories within the recommended levels to achieve a healthy weight. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend keeping saturated fat below 10% of total calories (1).
But what about the specific types of fats? Most people know they should be eating omega-3 fatty acids in the form of seafood and plant-based sources since this is an essential fat that can only come from the diet. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good ones to get from avocado, vegetable oils, and nuts, including peanuts, among other plant-based foods, which you want to eat more. Omega-6 fatty acid is also a polyunsaturated fat. Omega-6 fats are used to support healthy skin and regulate inflammation (2,3). Like omega-3 fatty acids, our bodies cannot synthesize omega-6 fats – that means we have to eat them in our diet (4). Since the body cannot make omega-6 or omega-3 fatty acids, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has provided guidelines for Adequate Intake (AI) of both in their Dietary Reference Intakes Macronutrients chart (2). Foods like peanuts help people meet their omega-6 needs, while also providing a host of other nutrients such as fiber, protein and vitamins.
Research has shown that replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat in the diet reduces heart disease. In fact, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize replacing saturated fats with mono and polyunsaturated fats because of the strong relationship of high consumption of saturated fat to heart disease risk (1).
What’s the takeaway? Researchers agree that fat, particularly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (like those in peanuts) can be a good and important part of a healthy diet particularly when they replace saturated fat.
- USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015. Accessed on January 20, 2016.
- Dietary Reference Intakes: Macronutrients. Available at https://ods.od.nih.gov/HealthInformation/nutrientrecommendations.aspx#dri. Accessed on January 21, 2016.
- McGuire M, & Beerman K. (2007). Fatty Acids: Sources, Functions and Dietary Recommendations. In Nutrition Sciences: From Fundamentals to Food. (pp. 228). Belmont, CA: Thomson Higher Education.
- Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School Website. The truth about fats: The good, the bad, and the in-between. Available at http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good. Accessed on November 13, 2015.
- Wein, Ph. D., H., & Contie, V. (Eds.). (2011, December 1). Weighing in on Dietary Fats. Retrieved December 7, 2015, from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/issue/dec2011/feature1.