With so much emphasis on healthy fat food choices, as well as the controversy between high-fat and low-fat diets, it can be tough to figure out what’s best for a balanced healthy eating plan.
When you break down your food choices for the day and compare them to a moderate ratio of fats to carbohydrates and protein, it’s so much easier to refine and then be confident in those choices.
The first time I tracked my food intake for a week, and then analyzed it with an online calorie calculator, I was shocked at the impact oil had on the ratio of fat in my diet. Although I was using much less oil than listed in recipes (1 Tbsp for 2 people rather than 2 or even 4 Tbsp), its concentrated calories from fat was throwing my whole balance off.
The truth is, whole food sources of fats are much better not only for health, but for maintaining a balanced ratio of fat. That’s because fats are accompanied by carbohydrates (including fiber) and protein in whole foods. If you compare an olive to olive oil, you can see that clearly:
- 1 Tbsp olive oil is 14 grams and has 119 calories, 100% of which are from fat
- 1 ounce of whole olives are 28 grams and have 40.6 calories, of which 88% are from fat, 3% are from protein and 9% are from carbs.
Whole olives, even at twice the weight, have a third the calories of the oil. If you’re wondering how there can possibly be this huge of a difference, the secret is that the whole olives are made up of 21.1 grams (75% by weight) of water.
That was one of the central ideas I incorporated when I put together my vegan meal plans – how to cook delicious foods with very little oil, and enjoy whole food sources of fats over oils.
My favorite healthy fat food sources are whole grains, nuts, seeds, avocados and occasionally (since they’re prepared with a lot of salt) olives. Whole grains, although not nearly as concentrated in fats as the other foods, have a decent amount of quality fats. Oats, for example, are 15% fat by calories (the rest of the oat is made up of 15% protein and 70% carbohydrate, if you were curious).
Although it’s good to get some healthy fat foods in your diet, keep in mind that fat calories add up quickly and you don’t need to try too hard to get enough. 1-2 Tbsp of ground flax is enough to get your full daily requirement of omega-3 fats.
To reach your full daily fat intake (based on a 2000 calorie diet) from a variety of whole foods, you can eat half a cup of oats, 2 Tbsp ground flax, a quarter of a cup of walnuts, two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds, an avocado, half a cup of chickpeas, one tablespoon of tahini (to make hummus with those chickpeas) and an ounce of green olives.
Going back to oils, consider that just one tablespoon of oil takes over almost 25% of that daily fat intake, almost as much as that quarter cup of walnuts so they’d be the easiest to cut out to make room for the oil. The walnuts are not only more fun to eat and taste better, but they have lots of nutrients other than just the fat, whereas the oil is pure fat and nothing else.
Here’s the breakdown for those who are curious about the numbers (nutritional data from https://nutritiondata.self.com/):
- A 2000 calorie diet, at 25-30% fat, would need 500-600 calories from fat.
- Half a cup of oats has 45 calories from fat (15% of its total calories) – 9% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds have 50 calories from fat (66% of its total calories) – 10% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- A quarter cup of walnuts has 164 calories from fat (83% of its total calories) – 32.8% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- Two tablespoons of pumpkin seeds have 108 calories from fat (71% of its total calories) – 21.6% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- Half an avocado has 88 calories from fat (77% of its total calories) – 18% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- Half a cup of chickpeas has 18 calories from fat (13% of its total calories) – 3.6% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- One tablespoon of tahini has 67 calories from fat (76% of its total calories) – 13.4% of your 500 daily fat calories.
- One ounce of olives have 35.9 calories from fat (88% of its total calories) – 7.2% of your 500 daily fat calories.
The total of these whole healthy fat foods add up to 576 calories from fat – right on target! One tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories from fat (100% of its total calories) – 23.8% of your 500 daily fat calories. So you’d have to give up one (or more) of the awesome foods above to make room for that one tablespoon of oil…
Have you ever tracked your calorie intake? Did you learn anything surprising by doing it? I’d love to hear your story below.