Years ago, I had a client who was truly ‘fat phobic’. If she could detect any trace of fat in her food, she’d reject it. She’d dissect a piece of roast chicken into tiny pieces, teasing out any specks of fat she could find between the muscle fibers, and she dressed her salads with straight lemon juice – never a drop of oil. She did this primarily as a weight control strategy – she was a tiny woman and intended to stay that way – but she’d also heard that people need to eat fat. So she was worried. Was being this finicky about fat bad for her health? And – more importantly – did she really need fat in her diet at all?
The simple answer to the question, “do I need to consume fat?” is yes, you do. And here’s one of the main reasons why. The fats you eat are made up of a variety of components called fatty acids. Some of these fatty acids are considered essential – which means that they have to be provided from food, because your body can’t make them. If your body doesn’t get the essential fatty acids it needs, it could negatively affect your health.
But here’s the catch. The amount of fat you need to eat in order to provide your body with the essential fatty acids it needs is tiny. How tiny, you ask? It’s estimated that if just 5% of the calories you eat come from fat that’s found naturally in a healthy, well balanced diet, that will do it. That’s about 75 calories’ worth on a 1500 calorie a day diet – or less than 9 grams of fat. So yes, you do need to consume fat, but the amount you need is so small, that it could be provided from a diet of whole, natural foods, even if you added no fat to your diet at all.
That said, I’m not suggesting that you should do all you can to eliminate every trace of fat from your diet. One reason (and this is a topic for another day) is that the types of fats you eat and the balance of your fatty acids matter too. Just eating 9 grams of fat a day won’t ensure that you get the right balance of fatty acids if you don’t choose your foods carefully. Suffice it to say that most of us don’t eat nearly enough of the healthy – and essential – omega-3 fatty acids that are supplied by fish, nuts and flaxseed.
But the point here is that there are traces of fat that exist naturally in all kinds of foods – even vegetables. People are really surprised when they hear this. And, to be honest, I was reluctant to tell my patient this, because I was concerned that her fear of fat would lead her to avoid eating healthy plant foods because of the specks of fat that might be lurking within… Thankfully, it didn’t.
But think about it. Our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors didn’t have butter dishes and bottles of salad dressing. They had to get their essential fats from somewhere, so they consumed foods that naturally contained fats – like fish, nuts, seeds and, yes, even vegetables.
It is recommended that you eat fats sparingly – particularly the fats that you add to your food – because their calories can add up fast. But foods that naturally contain small amounts of fat can provide your essential fatty acids and, at the same time, give a huge flavor boost to food. A few slices of avocado on a piece of grilled fish, a sprinkle of sesame seeds in a stir fry, some toasted almonds in a salad – all add flavor and texture, and essential fatty acids to boot.
Here’s a list of some plant foods that naturally contain fat. The numbers just might surprise you!
|Artichoke||1 medium||0.5 grams of fat|
|Asparagus||8 spears||0.5 grams of fat|
|Cauliflower||1 cup, cooked||0.5 grams of fat|
|Cracked wheat||1 cup, cooked||0.5 grams of fat|
|Cucumber||1 medium||0.5 grams of fat|
|Kale, cooked||1 cup||0.5 grams of fat|
|Nectarine||1 medium||0.5 grams of fat|
|Orange juice||1 cup||0.5 grams of fat|
|Pear||1 large||0.5 grams of fat|
|Peas||1 cup cooked||0.5 grams of fat|
|Strawberries||1 cup||0.5 grams of fat|
|Wild rice||1 cup, cooked||0.5 grams of fat|
|Zucchini||1 cup, cooked||0.5 grams of fat|
|Banana||1 large||1.0 gram of fat|
|Barley||1 cup, cooked||1.0 gram of fat|
|Blackberries||1 cup||1.0 gram of fat|
|Lentils||1 cup||1.0 gram of fat|
|Mango||1 medium||1.0 gram of fat|
|Mushrooms||1 cup, cooked||1.0 gram of fat|
|Raspberries||1 cup||1.0 gram of fat|
|Bread, whole grain||1 slice||1.5 grams of fat|
|Corn on the cob||1 ear||1.5 grams of fat|
|Pasta, plain||1 cup cooked||1.5 grams of fat|
|Spinach||1 cup chopped, cooked||1.5 grams of fat|
|Brown Rice||1 cup||2.0 grams of fat|
|Olives||5 large||2.5 grams of fat|
|Oatmeal||1 cup||3.5 grams of fat|
|Quinoa||1 cup, cooked||3.5 grams of fat|
|Garbanzo Beans||1 cup||4.0 grams of fat|
|Sesame seeds||1 Tablespoon||5.0 grams of fat|
|Edamame soybeans||1 cup||11.5 grams of fat|
|Almonds||1 ounce (24 nuts)||14 grams of fat|
|Peanuts||1 ounce (28 peanuts)||14 grams of fat|
|Avocado||½ average||15 grams of fat|
|Coconut||½ cup||16 grams of fat|
|Walnuts||1 ounce (14 halves)||18 grams of fat|
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.