Recently, a client sent an email asking for more information regarding fats.  As I wrote my response, I thought it would be good to talk about it here as well.  Fats are something we talk a lot about here in the iLiveWell office- for some reason, at some point in time fats got a bad rap!  Without getting too bogged down in the science, here’s the basics: there are three macronutrients- carbohydrate, protein and fat.  That’s where we get energy from!  Those three things.  In this post, I’m going to focus on fats- what their purpose is, where we can find them, and how we NEED them in our lives.

Fats have four main biological roles:

  • energy source- fats have 9 calories per gram
  • cell structure, membranes- every.single.cell in mammals (people!) is made up of a lipid (fat) bilayer.  That’s what holds you together guys!  Also think of your brain- fat coats all the brain cells to help those signals move fast!
  • lubricants- think skin, ears, eyes, etc.
  • signaling molecules.  This one is important! Sex hormones, hormones that regulate our response to stress and influence our mood are directly made from cholesterol (a form of fat!)!!

Fats are also necessary for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins- vitamins A, E, D, and K.  Another function of fat in the body is to provide satiety with the meal.  What does that mean? We need some fat in our meal to help us feel full and satisfied.  If you add some regular fat yogurt or peanut butter to your morning smoothie, it will help you feel more satisfied and feel fuller for longer than if you went fat free.  One thing we want to keep in mind though it’s portion size. You would likely find that you if you have regular fat yogurt you might not need as much as if you had fat free.

This is a good example of why variety is so important- we need different kinds of fats whether it’s saturated, unsaturated (and within that mono or poly unsaturated) because they all have different functions in the body. Saturated fats function in gene expression (may play role in cancer prevention), hormone regulation, cell messaging and immune function.  Unsaturated fats (determined if mono or poly by the number of double bonds, the location of the double bond determines if it’s an omega-3 or omega-6.  Woot science!) and help with cognitive function, reduce inflammation and lower risk for heart disease among other functions.

So where do we find fats and how much fat do we need?  Most foods have a combination of the different types however some foods are higher in one type of fat over another.  The general consensus is approximately 30% of your total calories should come from fat- ~67 grams for someone who needs 2,000 calories.  Now remember, you are a snowflake- everyone is different and an individual so there is a chance you might need a higher or lower percentage!  We want a variety of sources, that will help us find that balance.

Foods with saturated fats are usually animal products but some plant sources contain them as well.  Try to limit saturated fat to ~6% of total calories.  For a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s ~13 grams.

  • fatty meats, dairy including milk, yogurt, cheese
  • coconut, palm and palm kernel oil

Foods with more monounsaturated fat:

  • avocado
  • olive and canola oils
  • almonds, pistachios, cashews
  • certain types of cheese (Parmesan, Muenster, Monterrey Jack and more)

Foods with more polyunsaturated fat:

  • Walnuts
  • Sunflower seeds- in your oatmeal, on a salad YUM!
  • Flax seed or oil (you have to grind flax seeds in order for the body to digest them)
  • Fatty fish, such as salmon, albacore tuna, and trout.  Also on this list is mackerel, and herring.  I don’t know a lot of folks that usually eat these but I do want to say that I recently (ok it was a while ago) did a taste test of tinned smoked herring and it was really good so don’t be scared to try something new.  
  • Corn, soybean and safflower oils

The bottom line: fats are important, we need them to function, feel good, and feel full!  Eat a variety of foods and you will be a-okay.


  1. Rioux V. and Legrand P. (2007) Saturated fatty acids: simple molecular structures with complex cellular functions. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care 10:752-58
  2. Eckel RH, Jakicic JM, Ard JD, Miller NH, Hubbard VS, Nonas CA, et al. 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk: A Report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines.J Am Coll Cardiol
Kathy Kimbrough

By Kathy Kimbrough

Kathy Kimbrough is a Registered and Licensed dietitian practicing in the Austin area. A love of science and health, coupled with the drive to help people lead a full life, led her down the path of becoming a Registered Dietitian. An Austin resident since the age of two, Kathy pursued her degree in nutrition and graduated from the coordinated program at the University of Texas at Austin.The beginnings of Kathy's nutrition career focused on the care of the older adult, traveling throughout central Texas working in long term care facilities. Her work at iLiveWell has expanded her demographic, Kathy works with teens, college students and adults to help build a healthy relationship with food. She believes nutrition truly impacts one's health throughout their life journey and that it's always a good time to make positive change. Kathy strives to educate and empower her clients to take charge of their health and live their healthiest life. Kathy lives in Austin with her husband and their two rescue dogs. She enjoys cooking, staying active, spending time with her family and a good movie marathon. Specialties: Eating Disorders, Diabetes, Weight Management, Medical Nutrition Therapy

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