Dietary fat has been associated with many negative things. For many years, getting too much fat was associated with increasing risk for heart disease and other chronic diseases and increasing risk for weight gain.
The solution for keeping your risk low for these conditions was cutting down your fat intake.
The result was a heavier focus on increasing carbohydrates and fats in place of dietary fat.
More current research has shown the type of fat, not just quantity, is just as important for health.
We need fat in the diet; we get essential fatty acids, building blocks for hormones, satisfaction, flavor and a way to absorb fat soluble nutrients.
Not getting enough fat could be harmful to your health because it can interfere with hormone levels, skin health, cognitive function, nutrient absorption and satiety from meals.
So what should you focus on for fat intake? Balance is key.
Getting a variety of healthy foods in your diet is recommended for overall health and to get 25-35% of daily calories from fat.
Most of your fat intake should come from foods high in unsaturated fats.
Examples of foods high in unsaturated fats include: nuts, avocados, olive oil and fatty fish.
Foods like packaged sweets or fast food can be sources of trans fats and should be limited.
Foods high in saturated fats like red meat and dairy products should also be limited.
If you eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods, you are probably getting enough fat in your diet.
If you don’t eat a lot of foods that provide fat and notice some of these symptoms, you may not be getting enough fat from your diet.
If you are wondering if you are getting enough fat in your diet, you should consult your healthcare team.
See also: How many calories are in a pound of fat
Hormones act as regulators in the body. They send signals and can regulate processes in the body like growth and metabolism.
Fats and cholesterols are some of the building blocks for the hormones in the body.
If you don’t get enough of these building blocks, the body can’t make the appropriate amount of some hormones.
For pre-menopausal women, not getting enough fat can interfere with regular menstrual cycle and bone metabolism.
Women can stop getting their cycle due to not enough fat in their diet. Men can also have disturbances in sex hormone regulation if they don’t get enough fat.
If you notice differences in your cycle, it could be from not getting enough dietary fat.
However, there can be many causes for cycle variations. So, speak with your doctor if you are not sure why there may be some changes in menstrual cycles.
Getting too much fat, especially from saturated and trans fats, can also interfere with the body’s hormones.
The key is to eat nutrient dense foods and make most of your fat intake from unsaturated fat sources.
See also: Hormones that make you fat
If someone is not getting enough fat in their diet, one place it could show up is in skin health. If someone isn’t getting enough fat, skin can be dry, flaky and appear to be aged.
Essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 are needed for cell membranes, the outer layer of cells.
Getting enough of these nutrients can help skin appear healthy and hydrated.
Sources for omega 3 and 6 include: fatty fish, vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Vitamins A,D and E also play an important role for skin health.
These nutrients are absorbed in fat, so getting enough dietary fat is important for absorbing these nutrients for the skin.
Vitamin E especially is usually found in foods high in fats like nuts and oils.
Lowered absorption of fat soluble nutrients
Vitamins A,D,E and K are considered fat soluble. This means they get absorbed from the digestive system and into the body with the help of fat.
Not getting enough fat can lower the absorption of these important nutrients.
Could not getting enough fat impact brain function?
More research is needed to fully understand the role fatty acids can have on brain function, but so far there is an association between omega 3 intakes and cognitive function.
Some, but not all, studies have even shown taking omega 3 supplement in addition to anti-depressant medication had a greater effect on treating depression than medication alone (1).
While many factors play into cognitive health, this study and others suggest a diet that emphasizes a higher intake of unsaturated fats may be beneficial for brain health.
Not getting enough dietary fat can have many negative health consequences.
The focus has often been in recent years to lower fat intake, but more research is suggesting a moderate intake of fat, around 25-35% of calories, can be beneficial as long as most of the dietary fat is coming from unsaturated fat sources.
Not getting enough fat can interfere with hormone balances in the body.
For women, this can show up as interference with menstrual function. For men and women it could also mean interference with metabolism, bone health and cardiovascular health.
Skin health can be effected from not getting enough dietary fat; skin can be dry, wrinkled and flaky.
Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are necessary for many functions in the body including keeping skin healthy.
Fat is needed to absorb certain vitamins and minerals. If you don’t get enough from the diet, your absorption of these nutrients can be lowered.
Research studies have also shown a relationship between cognitive health and fat intake.
Not getting enough fat in the diet could negatively impact brain function, especially for children if they don’t get enough omega 3’s.
Cognitive decline is a multi-faceted disease, so more research is needed.
However, eating a diet higher in unsaturated fats could be helpful for lowering risk for cognitive decline.