Fat is one of three macronutrients required in the human diet, along with carbohydrate and protein. Fat has been crucial to human survival since it is a richer source of calories than its macronutrient cousins, providing 9 calories per gram of fat compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate or protein.
But wait. Does this mean you should eat less fat?
Fats don't just provide energy, they function like building blocks for the body, carrying vitamins and performing like hormones in crucial body processes like blood clotting, healing, and reducing inflammation. In postpartum -- and any time of life -- these functions are vital.
Dietary fat itself is vital to your health.
It just has to be the right type of fat.
What Are all These Fats?
All foods containing fat -- whether a chicken breast, walnut or bowl of Chunky Monkey -- have a mix of fat types.
The simplest way to break down the various types of fats is to divide them into two groups:
Unsaturated fats: liquid at room temperature (olive oil, canola oil) and found mainly in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
Saturated fats: solid at room temperature (butter, bacon fat) and found mainly in animal foods but also in coconut and palm oil.
Research and opinion is divided on the health risks of saturated fat and we know now that they're not quite as "evil" as Richard Simmons and the medical establishment of our childhood might have led us to believe. Let's be honest: they taste freaking delicious, and research now suggests they might be a completely normal or even beneficial part of an omnivorous diet. Since many foods high in saturated fat are also high in processed carbohydrate and/or sugar -- like cheeseburgers, cookies, and croissants -- the evidence is bit muddled.
Overall, simply transitioning to natural, whole food sources is the most important step away from potentially dangerous fat and carbohydrate combinations.
So What Are "Trans Fats?"
Trans fatty acids, more commonly called trans fats, are made by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen + catalyst, a process called hydrogenation.
Think of that other-worldly, addictive crisp of a processed snack cracker, or the modern miracle that is margarine. They seem other-worldly because they are other-worldly: unnatural and unsafe.
No amount of trans fats are recommended for human consumption.
The prescription for good health seems to be eliminating all trans fats from your diet and cutting back on saturated fat by replacing it with more unsaturated fats, especially those containing polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), otherwise known as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats are called “essential” fats because the mammal body requires them but cannot synthesize them; thus, they must be consumed in the diet.
Essential fats help to balance harmful and healthy blood cholesterol to prevent heart disease and, act as cellular anti-inflammatories, meaning they contribute to everything from joint health to brain function to cancer prevention.
Omega-6 fats are widely present in our modern diet from sources such as poultry & eggs, as well as commercially used oils found in baked goods and boxed foods.
Omega-3 fats are present in coldwater fish, primarily, and in some plant sources. As a culture, North Americans and Europeans tend, proportionally, to eat very little fish and so supplementation has become common and recommended by many doctors and health authorities.
If you are considering supplementing with a high-quality fish oil, guidelines may be found here.
For mamas, essential fats are a top priority!
Pregnancy deletes the body’s stores because essential fatty acids -- omega-3 fats in particular -- are transferred to your growing baby. This is of particular concern if you've had multiple pregnancies and pregnancies close together.
During the breastfeeding months and years, your omega-3 fatty acid reserves are also transferred to breastmilk.
Best not to obsess. Remember this instead: More babies, more breastfeeding, more likelihood that you need to prioritize omega-3 consumption in your diet!
For disease prevention, metabolic function and overall health, your BFF (best friend fats) are omega-3 fatty acids.
How To Do It
Consider the following protein source when planning next week's meals:
Small fatty fish such as sardines, anchovies, herring
Fatty cold water fish (low-mercury sources) like wild salmon & tuna - farmed salmon & tuna has much less omega-3 due to difference in diet
Soy beans, mature & edamame
Kidney beans, navy beans
Think about whether you rely too much on trans fat and saturated fat sources, and how you might make substitutions:
Lean ground turkey instead of beef for meatballs
Melted coconut oil + cinnamon on popcorn instead of butter
Salmon instead of steaks one night per week
One meat-free dinner per week to reduce overall saturated fat intake
Good quality eggs tucked in an English muffin instead of a fast food breakfast sandwich
Homemade muffins for afternoon snacks instead of bakery treats
.... and the possibilities are endless!
We've got six yummy recipes packed with healthful essential fats for you. Download your recipes and grab your Meal + Prep Planner to plan a healthy week!