What is fat?

Fats are part of the lipid family, which are compounds that are insoluble in water. Fat is a macronutrient made up of three fatty acids bonded to a glycerol back bone. They provide your body with energy, helps your body absorb and utilize fat-soluble vitamins, makes hormones such as estrogen, protects your organs and are a source of essential fatty acids.

There are multiple types of fatty acids, including saturated fatty acids (SFAs), monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). MUFAs and PUFAs differ from SFAs in that they contain one or more double bonds in their carbon chain.

Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fatty acid that occur naturally in the fats of ruminants and are formed in vegetable oils during hydrogenation.1,2

How much fat should I consume?

Health Canada recommends that total fat intake should contribute 20-35% of total daily energy intake for males and females 19 years and over.3

Fat is the most energy-dense macronutrient and provides 9 kcal per gram of fat8.

However, the type of fat is more important for health than the total amount of fat you eat. Not all fats are equally as beneficial for your health. Health Canada and Dietitians of Canada recommends choosing foods rich in unsaturated fats instead of foods high in saturated and trans-fat and reducing the overall fat in your diet to help lower your risk of heart disease.1,5

How does high fat consumption impact my health?

Heart disease and cancer are linked to diets high in fat, and other chronic health complications can be exacerbated by high-fat diets. Excessive fat consumption can also contribute to high blood pressure, gall stones, and excessive weight gain.7

High saturated and trans fat consumption can contribute to secondary dyslipidemia, where abnormal levels of lipids (including fat) are seen in the blood. Dyslipidemia is typically characterized by high levels of total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein, triglyceride and/or low levels of high-density lipoprotein. Dyslipidemia is concerning because it is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death in Canada. Furthermore, abnormal lipid levels are not normally associated with symptoms, so an individual experiencing dyslipidemia may be unaware of their condition for a long period of time before seeing their physician.4

Which foods contain healthy fats?

  • nuts
  • seeds
  • avocado
  • fatty fish
  • vegetable oils
  • soft margarine6

Which foods contain saturated fat?

  • fatty meat
  • dairy products (cream, cheese, etc)
  • highly processed foods
  • deep fried foods
  • some tropical oils such as palm and coconut oil6

Which oils contain healthy fats?

  • canola
  • corn
  • flaxseed
  • olive
  • peanut
  • safflower
  • sesame
  • soybean
  • sunflower6

How can I make healthy fat choices?

  • Include meat alternatives like beans, peas, lentils and tofu often. These foods are low in saturated fat and are a good source of fibre.
  • Choose milk alternatives such as almond, soy, coconut or oat milk
  • Use small amounts of unsaturated fat – limit added fat to 30-45 mL of vegetable oils each day
  • Choose foods rich in omega-3’s
  • Avoid foods made with trans-fat
  • Limit food high in saturated fat including butter, palm oil, bacon and bacon fat
  • Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry2

What steps can I take to cook and prepare foods using less fat?

  • Broil, bake, steam, or stir-fry your food instead of frying or deep frying
  • Reduce the oil you use when cooking and use broth or water to prepare foods
  • Use non-stick pans so less fat is needed when food is prepared
  • Use extra-lean cuts of meat
  • Remove all visible fat from meat before cooking
  • Reduce the amount of cheese used in cooking
  • Thick soups with pureed lentils, tofu, or cooked vegetables rather than cream
  • Use vinaigrette dressings instead of creamy salad dressings2


  1. Dietitians of Canada. (2017, August 9). How to Make Healthy Fat Choices. Retrieved from https://www-pennutrition-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/viewhandout.aspx?Portal=UbY=&id=JMzqUQY=&PreviewHandout=bA==
  2. Dietitians of Canada (2013, August 21). Eating Guidelines to Cook and Prepare Foods Using Less Fat. Retrieved from https://www-pennutrition-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/viewhandout.aspx?Portal=UbY=&id=JMzqUQc=&PreviewHandout=bA==
  3. Government of Canada. (2006, June 29). Dietary Reference Intakes. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/dietary-reference-intakes/tables/reference-values-macronutrients-dietary-reference-intakes-tables-2005.html
  4. Cardiovascular Disease – Dyslipidemia. (2018, February 1). Retrieved from https://www-pennutrition-com.subzero.lib.uoguelph.ca/KnowledgePathway.aspx?kpid=2878&trid=4150&trcatid=38
  5. Fats and Other Lipids. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK218759/
  6. Government of Canada. (2019, December 23). Choose foods with healthy fats. Retrieved from https://food-guide.canada.ca/en/healthy-eating-recommendations/make-it-a-habit-to-eat-vegetables-fruit-whole-grains-and-protein-foods/choosing-foods-with-healthy-fats/
  7. Fats, Cholesterol, And Chronic Diseases. (1992). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235018/
  8. USDA. (n.d.). How many calories are in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, or protein? Retrieved from https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/how-many-calories-are-one-gram-fat-carbohydrate-or-protein

One thought on “Back to Basics: Fat

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s