Skimping out on healthy fats is not the best approach for weight loss or health. Dietary fat is needed to absorb important nutrients like vitamins A,D,E and K. Fat is also needed as a building block for cell membranes and to make hormones in the body.
Certain fats, like omega 3’s, are needed for lowering inflammation in the body. Eating fats also help you feel satisfied after eating, which can be helpful for weight loss.
Eating in any extreme usually does more harm than good. Fat in a large excess or not enough could negatively impact health.
For optimal health, keep a healthy balance of eating fats, carbohydrates and protein. Not only is quantity important, but quality of your dietary fat is just as important.
These six signs listed below could indicate you are not eating enough healthy fats. If you are concerned your fat intake may be affecting your health, speak with a dietitian and/or your health care team.
#1 – Always feeling cold
Being underweight in general can cause poor body temperature regulation. Not getting enough healthy fat in the diet could also lead to poor body temperature regulation and always feeling cold.
A common symptom in people with anorexia nervosa is developing an almost down like layer of hair on their skin to combat feeling cold (2). This is an extreme example of poor body regulation as a result of eating too little calories and healthy dietary fats.
Another reason for always feeling cold could be from under productive thyroid or from poor circulation. If you feel like you are always cold, speak with your doctor for further diagnosis.
#2 – Dry, scaly skin
Fats are needed for healthy, young looking skin. If you are not getting enough healthy fats in your diet, one of the first places to take a hit could be your skin.
If your skin is dry and scaly, it could mean you may not be getting adequate amounts of fat in your diet.
#3- Trouble concentrating and mental fatigue
There could be many reasons someone feels mentally fatigued and has trouble concentrating. One of these reasons could be from a lack of important dietary fats in the diet.
One practical reason someone may feel mentally fatigued and has difficulty concentrating is because they may not be getting enough calories in general.
If someone is under consuming energy, mental focus will be difficult.
A deficiency of omega 3’s specifically could also impact mental function because omega 3’s are a building block for the brain and central nervous system (3).
Some epidemiological studies have shown a protective role of polyunsaturated fats, which are sources of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, to be protective against cognitive decline and even dementia.
More research is needed on the exact role fatty acids can play on protection against cognitive decline, but not getting enough dietary fat could affect mental ability.
#4 – Loss of menstrual cycle
If a woman stops menstruating, this signifies a change in hormone levels. If a woman doesn’t get enough healthy fats in the diet, she won’t be able to make the needed levels of hormones that regulate menstrual cycle.
A harmful side effect of this is an increased risk of osteoporosis. Women who are not going through natural menstrual cycles can have an increased risk for lowered bone density.
A loss of menstrual cycle could be from other unrelated hormonal imbalances or from over exercising. If your menstrual cycle has been disrupted, speak with your health care team.
#5 – Fat soluble vitamin deficiency
Full blown deficiency of fat soluble vitamins are rare and are usually not seen in developed countries. People who are malnourished or have chronically severely restricted food intake can have fat soluble vitamin deficiencies along with many other deficiencies.
However, mild deficiencies can occur from poor intakes of these vitamins or from not eating enough fat to absorb these nutrients.
Colorado State University Extension (4) suggests people who excessively restrict their fat intake may not be getting enough dietary vitamin E.
#6 – Low HDL cholesterol and high triglycerides
Diets low in fat, less than 20% of calories, can increase risk for high triglycerides and low HDL cholesterol.
Over consuming carbohydrates in place of dietary fat could lead to higher triglycerides with lower HDL levels.
Previous medical advice to lower risk of cardiovascular disease and obesity consisted of eating a low fat diet that was heavier on carbohydrate intake.
Getting up to 35% of calories is considered ok as long as it is from healthy fats sources like olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Dietary fat has many important functions in the body. Not only does fat provide a concentrated energy source, but it also provides building blocks for hormones, cell membranes and is a vehicle to absorb many important nutrients for the body.
Cutting back on fat many seem like a practical way to cut calories, but cutting fat too low can do more harm than good.
Not eating enough healthy fats could lead to symptoms such as: poor body temperature regulation, dry skin, loss of menstrual cycle, lowered HDL levels with higher triglycerides and even fat soluble vitamin deficiencies.
It is recommended to get between 20-35% of calories from fat. Getting less than this amount could increase risk for these symptoms.
All of these symptoms could have other root causes, but if you have all or most of these symptoms it could mean you are not getting enough fat in your diet.
If you have questions or are concerned that you may not be getting enough healthy fats, speak with a dietitian or your doctor.