When I got my bloodwork done 2 months ago, I discovered that in one year I had dropped from a perfectly normal HDL (good) cholesterol level to just below normal. In this article, I’ll share why this happened, how I fixed it, and what you can do to make sure you keep your fat intake just right.
When I took the results to my holistic doc, the first thing he said was I needed to start eating more fat. Duh. But you can imagine my initial reaction!
Why is fat important?
If you eliminate all overt fats (nuts, seeds, etc.), you risk becoming deficient in Omega 3 and fat soluble vitamins. Beyond the most familiar function, which is to store energy on your body (I store mine in my thighs :)), dietary fat serves some important purposes.
Our cell membranes are made up of fat. It’s also necessary for transporting Vitamins A, D, E, and K through the bloodstream. Cholesterol, which isn’t technically a fat, is the precursor to some hormones, but it’s also one thing that we produce ourselves and shouldn’t have to consume. In addition, essential fatty acids play an important role in brain development and managing inflammation. (source)
Read my article on how my too-low fat intake affected my acne. I personally wouldn’t just assume everything is okay because you don’t notice any symptoms. I’d get a blood test.
Can fat drop too low?
The World Health Organization recommends 15-20% of our calories from dietary fat.
Those on a low fat vegan diet are concerned about keeping fat levels low. First, I want to clarify that we’re not talking about buying “low fat” processed junk at the grocery store. We’re talking about a diet naturally low in fat because it’s made up of almost entirely fruits and veggies.
But your body does need some fat, so avoiding all overt fats is not the answer either.
Since adopting a low fat high raw diet 6 months before my bloodwork, I had been limiting my fat intake to about 6-8% on average. I wasn’t eating much in the way of overt fats (nuts, seeds, avocado), and it was keeping my weight stable. Yet, I was surprised when I found out my HDL had dropped from 61 to 41. The reference range is 46-199.
This post on fat in vegan diets by Ginny Messina, the Vegan R.D., also provides a good perspective on dietary fat.
Like anyone else, I’m always learning, and I feel it’s my responsibility to share with you the bad as well as the good. Got it?
Thankfully, I was able to get my fat back to a healthy level with a month of supplementing with Omega 3 and making sure I had some overt fats every day.
Too much or too little? How do you know?
It seems that the ideal fat intake is individual to you, based on your current diet and how it makes you feel. Here are a few things you can do to make sure you’re on the right track:
- Listen to your body.
Are you tired and groggy all the time? Perhaps try reducing your fat intake (and increasing fresh fruit) and see if that helps.
- Get your blood tested with a full lipid panel.
See where your levels fall.
- Supplement with Omega 3, if needed.
If your lab results show you are off, you may want to supplement with a daily Omega 3 for a month or at least until your number comes back up. I use Ovega-3 which is an algae-based source of DHA and EPA.
- Make sure to get nuts, seeds, or avocado every day.
The amount will vary based on the calories in your diet, but for me at 1600 daily calories, I try to get 2 Tbsp nuts and seeds or 1/4 avocado each day along with my fruits and veggies. A tablespoon of ground flax will cover your daily Omega 3 needs for only 30 calories. Chia and hemp seeds are also great to include.
Now your turn. How do you make sure to get your necessary fats every day? Leave it in the comments.