Functions of fat in the body

Despite what many magazine covers and TV commercials will promote, fat is actually quite beneficial to us. It's essential for many processes and functions in our bodies. Here are just some of its functions:

  • Provides us with sustained energy
  • Helps our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K
  • Important for brain function and maintenance
  • Helps with the insulation and protection of our vital organs
  • Adds flavour and mouthfeel to foods

Types of fats

Fat's can be categories in the following three categories:

flow chart of types of fats
Omega-9 fats are considered to be monounsaturated fats, while omega-3 and omega-6 fats are considered to be polyunsaturated fats.

Saturated fat

The majority of saturated fat is found in animal products such as dairy products, red meat, and poultry. Plant-based food sources include palm oil and coconut oil. 

The evidence of adverse effects for saturated fat intake isn't as conclusive as we may think. There's considerable controversy over whether or not saturated fat alone actually affects heart health. Some say it does, while others say it doesn't. There's still much research to be done in this area.

In view of this controversy, we like to err on the conservative side and recommend limiting saturated fats. As with most other foods, we enjoy them in moderation.

Unsaturated fats

There are two main kinds of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. A type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids, is important for the proper growth and function of our brain and nervous system. Learn more about omega 3 and how to meet our needs in our omega-3 fats article. Some examples of food sources include sunflower seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, almonds, and avocados.

Replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats helps decrease the risk of developing heart disease. What's great is that plant-based foods are amazing sources of unsaturated fats! We aim to consume unsaturated fats most often since they have more favourable effects on health. Not to mention they're satisfying in countless wholesome and flavourful dishes. 

Trans fats

Trans fats can be found in many processed foods such as fried foods and baked goods. They're usually added for taste, texture and preservation purposes.

Very few trans fats are naturally occurring. About 90% are created during a process called hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into solid fats. This method, for example, is used to create margarine. This may seem ironic since margarine was originally developed to be a healthier alternative to butter. Turns out, trans fats produced from this hydrogenation process significantly increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

It's commonly recommended that trans fats be avoided or limited as much as possible. Be on the lookout for ingredient lists including "hydrogenated oils", "partially hydrogenated oils and/or "shortening."

Our philosophy

At Pick Up Limes, we always recommend getting nutrients from foods first before reaching for supplements and concentrates. Supplements are generally recommended only when we can't meet our requirements from food alone. The same is true for fats. Consuming fats from whole foods not only provides delicious flavours and helps keep us feeling full. They also provide the benefit of added fibre and various other nutrients. 

This isn't to say we should stay away from oils altogether. They're useful when baking or cooking. Our simple message is that moderation is important. When we listen to our hunger cues, we'll likely find that we feel full quite quickly after eating nourishing foods that contain fat. This is because fats are a concentrated energy source and provide 9 kcal/gram as opposed to carbohydrates and protein, which provide 4kcal/g. Generally speaking, adults don't need much of it. On the other hand, infants and children require more healthy fats in their diet for their growing bodies. As always, speak to a dietitian or doctor for more individualized recommendations. 

avocado hummus toast with miso mushrooms
Try our avocado hummus toast, featuring avocado as a source of unsaturated fats!

Using oils

We've created a go-to list of oils below. Download it as a PDF for easy reference. When possible, we aim to incorporate flaxseed, hempseed, walnut and canola oil, as they have a higher omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. These oils are marked with an asterisk (*). Learn what the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is and why it's important in our omega-3 article.

A note on smoke points

Some oils have higher smoke points. This means they're more appropriate for cooking because they don't burn as easily. Other oils with lower smoke points burn more easily and are better off consumed raw, as either drizzled over a dish or used for dressings and marinades.

A note on coconut oil

Coconut oil has been somewhat controversial because it's high in saturated fat. It may not be as bad as some may think though. Although excessive consumption of saturated fat has been linked to the cardiovascular issues we mentioned above, there's little evidence of adverse effects for moderate to low intake. This means that it's perfectly okay to be used in moderation

By choosing plant-based foods, we're already excluding several foods high in saturated fats by default, so putting a small amount in a Nutella overnight oats recipe that will be consumed throughout the week is perfectly fine. Read more about this topic in our coconut oil article.

General tips


No.01 Store oils in a cool place away from sunlight to prevent them from going rancid (bad).
No.02 We can make our own salad dressings and marinades at home as opposed to buying store-bought to save money and have more control over the product. For example, our roasted garlic dressing or tahini sambal sauce make for delicious ways to enjoy some healthy fats.
No.03 To help limit the use of excess oil, top salads with nuts and/or seeds, avocado, or olives.
No.04 Enjoy grilled, steamed, broiled, or baked foods more often than those that are fried or deep-fried.
No.05 Consider non-stick cookware to reduce the amount of oil needed when cooking.
No.06 Let the nutrition label be our friend! If purchasing packaged foods, read ingredient lists and nutrition labels for insight on saturated and trans fat content.

Summary

  1. Fats can be beneficial. Fat serves various functions in the body and is needed for optimal health.
  2. Aim for unsaturated fats. Including omega-3 rich sources more often and aim to limit trans fats. Unsaturated fat sources include nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, olives, and avocados.
  3. Choose whole food sources of fat over oils when possible. Foods include fibre, vitamins, and minerals for added nutritional benefits.
  4. Depending on the smoke point, some oils are more appropriate to cook with than others. Refer to our PDF above for examples.