A Healthy Fat
Too many high fat foods can make us fat. So, is a healthy fat free diet
best way to lose weight? Absolutely not. In fact, there is no such
thing as a diet that is both fat free and
healthy. We need some essential fats.
It Doesn't Exist
There are two essential fatty acids (fats) that we must have to
maintain good health. We can't manufacture them
ourselves, so we have to get them from food. They are both
At least 3% of our calories must come from
these essential fats. This is one reason why we should not aim for a
fat free diet. However, we don't have to add oil to our food to
obtain these fats. They are in the whole plant foods that we
eat: plants in their original
form. To eat them, we don't remove anything
peels, hulls, stalks, or
- An omega 6 fatty acid called linoleic acid (LA).
- An omega 3 fatty acid called alpha
linolenic acid (ALA).
Of all the whole plant foods, vegetables are the most nutritious, and
they all contain fat. A vegetable-based diet is not a fat free diet.
Fat in vegetables?
you skeptical when we say that vegetables contain fat?
Many people believe that vegetables are fat free foods. They
are not. As plants grow, they use sunlight, water, and minerals from
the soil to
manufacture the three basic macronutrients:
protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Vegetables, like all other whole plant
foods, contain all three of these macronutrients.
The ratio of these macronutrients is
different in each plant, but they
are always there, and in quantities that sometimes
us. We don't
find fat free foods in nature, and a fat free diet is not
natural. We advocate an
oil-free vegan diet, not a fat free
vegan diet. Read
our page on fat free
cooking for tips on how to prepare food without
fat whole plant foods.
None of them
are fat free and we don't want them to be. We
just want them to have a reasonably low percent of calories from fat,
around 5-15 percent. We even eat small amounts of high fat plant
foods, like flax seeds and nuts.
Fat free foods
Any truly fat free food has been processed to remove the fat, and we
try to avoid processed foods. Here is a partial
of fat free foods that would be part of any fat free diet:
(Any fat free animal foods, like skim milk, are also highly processed
- sugar and other sweeteners
- refined flours
- isolated protein powders
- products made from these ingredients
The processed plant foods above may lack fat, but they also lack fiber,
vitamins, minerals, and other valuable plant nutrients. A fat free diet will not
our hunger or help us lose weight.
Food companies know that dieters are always looking for fat free foods.
The companies tinker with nutrition labels to
a product appear to be fat free when it really contains fat.
They do this with "fat free" salad dressings. They call one
tablespoon a serving,
then they claim that a serving contains 0 grams of fat.
Yes, a dressing could truly be fat free if it contained only
water, vinegar, salt, sugar, herbs, spices, and a thickener like guar
gum. But if oil is in the ingredient list, the dressing is not fat
free. In fact, 100% of the calories may come from fat! This is the
reason we always read the list of ingredients, and not
just the Nutrition Facts label.
Percent of calories from fat
We usually ignore the grams of fat in a
serving of food, because
serving sizes can vary a lot. Some serving sizes are large, and some
are ridiculously small. Instead, we want to know
a constant number: what percent of the calories in a food come from
fat. All we need to know
to figure this out is
that one gram of fat contains approximately 9 calories.
Suppose that a
serving of food contains 90 calories. The serving contains
one gram of fat. Since one gram of fat contains 9
calories, and 9 divided by 90 is 0.10, our
imaginary food is 10% fat.
This does not mean that 10% of the weight of
the food is fat. A company or an individual can easily change the
weight of a food by adding or subtracting water. It does not change the
percent of fat in the product. A classic example of this marketing
technique is "2% fat milk", which is
2% fat by weight. It is actually 30% fat by percent of
The percent of fat by weight is useless information. The essential
information is the
percent of calories from fat. For more information on
calculating the fat content of packaged foods, see our page on reading
But what about foods that don't have nutrition labels?
Foods without nutrition labels
Suppose we want to find the fat content of kale. The easy way is to go to the Nutrition Data website.
Their Caloric Ratio Pyramid shows that kale
is 12% fat. Scroll down to the "Fats & Fatty Acids" part of
their chart, and you will see that a one cup (67 g) serving of
kale contains 121 mg of Omega-3 fats and 92.4 mg of Omega-6 fats.
Greens contain essential fats!
If you would prefer to do the math yourself, use a calculator and
the USDA National Nutrient Database.
Again, let's calculate the percent of fat in kale:
- First we search for
kale. We get a number of possible choices.
- We select raw kale.
- We choose a 100 gram portion. Any size
portion will work.
- The database gives us a detailed breakdown of
the nutrition in raw kale. We are most interested in the first three
columns of the top section of the chart, which is labeled "Proximates."
This is what it looks like:
- The chart says
that 100 grams of kale contain 50 calories (kcal).
- The total lipid (fat)
content in this serving size is 0.70 grams.
one gram of fat contains 9 calories. So, 0.7 grams x 9
calories from fat.
- Divide 6.3 calories by 50 calories.
- The result is 0.126. Kale is
If you would like to calculate the percent
of calories from protein or carbs, use the number 4 instead of 9. There
are just 4 calories in a gram of protein or
carbohydrate. This explains why fat can be fattening! But don't aim for
a fat free diet. Just avoid oil and eat lots of low fat plant foods. Here is more information
about planning a low fat vegan diet.