Is a low-fat diet the healthiest choice?
Short answer: not at all!
Our bodies need fats in our diet to absorb vitamins and minerals, produce hormones and cholesterol (we do need some of that, despite it’s current status as health pariah).
The healthiest choice is to eat the right types of fats – and get them in the right ratio.
To optimize your body’s metabolic process, the ideal ratio is 20-35% of calories from fat. Each gram of fat is approximately 9 calories.
So if you eat 2000 calories a day, you should aim for 44-78 grams of fat. If you eat 1500 calories a day, you should aim for 33-58 grams of fat.
Then you need to balance that out with the appropriate proportion of carbohydrates and protein. Trouble is, we eat food – not fats, carbohydrates and protein. Every food you eat will have a little (or a lot) of each of these macronutrients, so it can be hard to find the right balance.
For example, avocados are often labeled as “fats” but in reality only 77% of the calories from an avocado come from fats. The rest of their calories come 19% from carbohydrate and 4% from protein.
And then if you look at avocados by weight, they’re made up of 73% water, and 7% fiber, neither of which count as calories.
So, how much avocado is too much avocado?
Short answer: it depends.
A half cup of avocado has 75 calories and 11 grams of fat, and gives you lots vitamins and minerals (like vitamins E, K, lots of the B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, zinc, and more), plus 5 grams of fiber.
If we assume that the only fat in your diet came from avocado, and that you eat 2000 calories a day, you should tap out at about 3.5 cups of avocado to hit 35% of your total calories.
Of course, there is some fat in nearly every other food, so you may want to ease off a bit to leave room for other foods. This example was just to make the math easier.
Is oil the spawn of the devil?
Short answer: no way!
Oil isn’t evil, and some vegans actually need to take oils as supplements, like coconut oil at to make sure their cholesterol levels don’t get too low or flax oil to make sure they get enough omega-3 absorbed into their bodies.
It’s just that it’s easier to keep your fat ratios in line, and get the vitamins and minerals your body needs, by eating whole foods rather than oils for the most part.
One tablespoon of most vegetable oils have 120 calories and 13.5 grams of fat, and doesn’t give you much else in terms of nutrition.
If you went with oil as your only source of fat instead of avocado, you would hit the maximum recommended at about 5 and 3/4 tablespoons of oil (based on 2000 calories per day).
My choice is to saute in water, and then chop avocado to put on top because I get to eat more food, and I find avocado tastier than oil. But that’s just my choice!
I encourage using oil sparingly, since it is prone to creating free radicals that can do damage to your body in various ways. I also encourage having it on as low a heat, and for as little time, as possible when cooking to minimize creating more free radicals.
Unrefined oils, like coconut or olive, are the best choice. Highly refined oils, like canola or vegetable oils, have a higher potential for free radicals and chemicals (for bleaching or deodorizing).
Even with those downsides though, oil isn’t going to suddenly kill you, and it isn’t the devil. Just use high quality forms, use them consciously, and eat all the other good foods to keep you healthy.
What is omega-3, and why is it so important?
Short answer: it’s an essential fat that most people need more of.
There are 2 fats that are essential to humans – meaning we need to get them from our food intake. Omega-3 is one, and omega-6 is the other.
The reason we only ever hear about omega-3 is because most people get way too much omega-6.
The typical North American diet gets a ratio of omega-6:omega-3 that’s about 15-16:1. The recommended ratio is 4:1. So most people are getting about 4 times too much omega-6, or 4 times too little omega-3.
Either way you look at it, the ratio is drastically skewed. Vegetable oils have a very high proportion of omega-6, which is another reason to minimize their place in your diet.
The meal plan programs I design are all balanced to give that ideal 4:1 ratio. Mostly because I include a high-omega-3 seed every day, and make sure the sources of omega-6 are the more balanced ones. I also make sure that the ratio between fats, carbohydrates and proteins is on point to optimize your metabolism.
So what do you think? Do you eat too much, too little, or just the right amount of healthy fats? Do you know whether your omega-6:3 ratio is in line or not?
- Top foods with essential fatty acids
- How to grind flaxseed – and why you need to!
- Fat in vegan diets: How low should you go?, by Ginny Messina, The Vegan RD
- Omega-3 Recommendations, by Jack Norris, RD on VeganHealth
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids, by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine