Fatty foods are an important part of our diet that is often controversially discussed. On one hand, fats are an important source of energy for our body, but on the other hand, excessive consumption can lead to health problems. In the above fat table, you can see plant-based and vegan foods with their respective fat contents.
What are Lipids?
Lipids are a group of organic compounds. They are important components of cell membranes and serve as energy stores in the body. Fat is also necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, D, E, and K. There are different types of lipids, such as triglycerides, phospholipids, carotenoids, and steroids. Each of these types has a different function in the body.
Triglycerides are the most common form of lipids in the body and serve as energy stores. They are formed from glycerol and three fatty acids. The fatty acids can be saturated, unsaturated, or polyunsaturated.
Phospholipids are an important component of cell membranes and play a role in signal transmission in the body. The cell membranes of muscle fibers consist of a double layer of phospholipids. These membranes are responsible for the transport of nutrients and ions into and out of the muscle fibers.
Steroids are lipids that occur in many different forms, such as cholesterol, which plays an important role in hormone synthesis and the formation of cell membranes. Cholesterol is produced by the body, but it is also obtained through diet.
Carotenoids are a group of pigments found in many plants and responsible for their red, yellow, and orange colors. They have many health benefits as they are potent antioxidants. Accordingly, they can fight free radicals in the body and thus prevent damage to cells and tissues.
Fats and Calories
Fat contains more than twice as many calories per gram as carbohydrates or proteins, with 9.3 kcal/g. This means that a smaller amount of fat delivers a larger amount of calories. This is also shown in our calorie chart.
A high intake of fat through diet can lead to higher calorie intake and thus an increase in body weight. This is because fat has a high energy density. High-fat foods are often very tasty and tempt us to eat more than necessary to feel full.
However, since fat also slows down the digestion and absorption of food, it can also increase the feeling of satiety. In particular, polyunsaturated fatty acids require a longer digestion time than carbohydrates and proteins. Additionally, fats can also influence the release of hormones such as leptin, which regulates the feeling of satiety, resulting in overall fewer calories consumed.
Fatty Acids in High-Fat Foods
Fatty acids are an important component of cell membranes and play a role in signal transmission between cells. They are also involved in the production of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, and cortisol. There are three types of fatty acids:
- Saturated fatty acids are usually solid at room temperature. Excessive consumption of saturated fatty acids can lead to increased LDL cholesterol levels and thus increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Saturated fatty acids are typically found in animal-based foods, but there are also some plant-based foods that are rich in saturated fatty acids. These include coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter, and soybean oil.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature. They are healthier than saturated fatty acids. Plant-based foods rich in monounsaturated fatty acids include olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, and almond oil.
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature and can be divided into two main types: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties and can reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are also important for brain and eye health. Plant-based foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and canola oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are also important but should be consumed in moderation as excessive intake can increase the risk of inflammation and cardiovascular diseases. Sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil, grape seed oil, and soybean oil are plant-based foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids. Strive to maintain a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet. This table shows which foods are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Healthy Fats in Foods
Healthy fats are important for the body to function properly. They help, among other things, in absorbing essential nutrients, producing hormones, and forming healthy cells. There are different types of healthy fats found in plant-based foods.
Unsaturated fats are found in plant oils such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. They are rich in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fatty acids and can help lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have also shown that unsaturated fats can improve insulin sensitivity and support blood sugar control in people with type 2 diabetes.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for optimal brain and cardiovascular health. They can reduce inflammation in the body and decrease the risk of heart disease, strokes, and Alzheimer's. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in plant sources such as flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and leafy green vegetables.
Polyunsaturated fats are also present in plant sources such as sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and nuts. They are rich in linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid), which is important for cell formation and growth, particularly for the skin and hair.
Fatty Foods by Group
Some oils high in healthy fats include olive oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, canola oil, and walnut oil. Olive oil contains a high concentration of monounsaturated fats and is a staple in Mediterranean cuisine. Flaxseed oil and walnut oil are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp oil is rich in both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. It also contains gamma-linolenic acid, a rare omega-6 fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties. Canola oil is high in monounsaturated fats. You can find the fat table with oils and margarines here.
Nuts and seeds are rich in healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of fatty nuts include almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamia nuts, pecans, pine nuts, and walnuts. Examples of fatty seeds are chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. This table reveals how much fat nuts and seeds contain.
Most fruits typically contain low amounts of fat. However, there are some exceptions that contain small amounts of healthy fats, including avocado, olives, coconut, and nuts. This table shows which fruits contain fat.
In general, vegetables are considered low-fat foods. Some vegetables that have a higher fat content according to the fat table are peas, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and spinach. You can find more high-fat vegetables in this table.
Grains are also low in fat. Oats are relatively rich in omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fatty acids. Quinoa, buckwheat, and millet can also be considered high-fat grains.
Incorporating Healthy Fats into Your Diet
Here are some tips on how to incorporate healthy fats into your diet:
- When cooking and frying, you can use vegetable oils such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, or coconut oil as they are rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
- Avocado is another source of healthy fats and can be used as a spread, in salads, or as an ingredient in smoothies.
- Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats. You can add them to cereal, vegan yogurt alternatives, salads, or enjoy them as a snack.
- If you enjoy cheese or butter, vegan alternatives can be healthier options. For example, you can switch to almond or cashew cheese. Avocado or hummus can also be good and healthy spreads.
- There are many plant-based milk alternatives that can serve as a healthy alternative to conventional milk. These often contain less saturated fats. They are available in almond, oat, soy, cashew, and coconut varieties.
- Avoid trans fats as they increase the risk of heart disease. Processed foods often contain saturated and trans-fatty acids, which are not as healthy as unsaturated fats. The latter are artificially produced fats that can be found in many processed foods such as baked goods, margarine, and fast food. Therefore, it is recommended to maintain a balanced diet with unprocessed foods.
- Some foods contain hidden fats that can negatively impact your health when accumulated throughout the day. Pay attention to the nutritional information. Avoid fatty foods that contain high amounts of saturated or trans fats, such as chips or fried foods.
- When cooking your own meals, you have control over the ingredients and preparation. Use fresh ingredients and healthy fats like plant oils and nuts to prepare a healthy meal.
- Fast food and ready-made meals are often high in unhealthy fats and can increase the risk of heart disease. Try to avoid them and instead prepare your meals yourself.
- Pay attention to the quality of fats you consume. Prefer to use cold-pressed oils or fresh, unsalted nuts and seeds.