A plant-based diet is well accepted by many in terms of being the overall healthy choice. Even those who claimed to be meat or dairy cheese lovers for life, have warmed up to the idea that plants are where it’s at, and animals foods are not the most overall healthy option for health. Whether for economical, ethical, health, or environmental concerns, people warm up more easily to the idea of eating plant-based than they used to. But one area that’s still gray for many people is the issue of fat. And it’s a big fat issue, to put it bluntly.

Why We Need Fat:

Fat is a necessary nutrient that’s vital for brain health, metabolism, heart, and even digestive function. Fat isn’t as feared as it once was, however some diets that promote a plant-based lifestyle also advise against eating high-fat plant foods. Nuts, seeds, avocados, coconut, olives, and plant-based oils are all high in healthy, plant-based fats. These fats can come with a variety of nutritional benefits, especially in comparison to animal products that contain cholesterol and high amounts of inflammatory animal-based saturated fats. But how much fat is too much?

What You Shuld Know About Fats in Plant-Based Foods

Nuts and seeds contain roughly 14-23 grams in a couple of tablespoons (or one ounce.) Avocados contain 22-30 grams of fat in one fruit, and coconut is much higher than that. Plant-based oils usually contain roughly 14-18 grams in just two tablespoons, and nut butters range around the same if not more. More than a couple servings of these foods would scare most people into a fat-fearing frenzy. Some medical doctors like Dr. Neal Barnard, also say that too many fats (even from healthy sources), can interfere with insulin production in the body since fat blocks insulin from reaching the cells efficiently, possibly leading to diabetes.

Fats are also high in calories that can lead to weight gain when eaten in excess, but when carbohydrates are fairly low, a moderate fat, lower protein and lower carbohydrate diet has even been shown to improve a person’s weight and even blood sugar. Carbs and protein raise insulin in the body, which can often lead to negative side effects like elevated blood sugar. Fats aid in satiety more than fat or protein since they contain more calories and digest more slowly. But the body needs carbs and protein, so what’s the middle ground here?

How to Decide How Much Fat You Need?

Some people do well on a lower fat diet and some do better on a higher fat diet. Factors can go into play such as age, past health issues, digestion, hormones, and even stress. So how should you know which is best for you? Overall, going with medical science and advice from vegan dietitians prove that oil-free is a good choice. Oil is not a whole food, doesn’t provide fiber and as many vitamins and minerals as the whole food itself, and can contribute to weight gain more than fiber-rich sources of fat that also contain water, vitamins, and minerals. So a good option is to eliminate oil as the first option, even though some people do consume it and do quite fine. Some oils like coconut oil and olive oil, are even prized for their health benefits, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everyone. For those on the fence, nixing it is just the better option. This type of diet is often referred to as a whole foods, plant-based diet since it still allows healthy fats, but only from true, whole foods.

Why Fat-Free Isn’t The Answer

Going fat-free can lead to skin issues, depression, heart issues, and many digestion issues, so don’t go fat-free if you think that’s just the easiest ansewr. If you have a hard time digesting fats, start with lower-fat foods that are beneficial in omega 3 fats such as a tablespoon of chia or flax (which is lower than nuts and other seeds), and choose only a small sliver of avocado instead of having the whole thing. Use small amounts of shredded coconut instead of coconut butter or whole coconut meat. Use slivered or sliced almonds and walnut pieces in your dishes instead of eating handfuls of nuts to start. Increase your fats slowly to see how your body reacts. If you do well, then your body probably digests and absorbs fats just fine, but if you develop heartburn, indigestion, stomach aches, or other negative side effects, you could have problems with fat absorption, or your body could just prefer higher carb foods to higher fat foods – and that’s okay! The answer is to back off little by little until you find your happy medium.

Make Fats Work For You But Keep This in Mind:

One thing to keep in mind:  don’t eat fats with refined carbs, sugars, or junk foods, which are not only unhealthy themselves but also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and utilize fats properly. Your body will either use sugar, refined flours, and junk food carbs (which are referred to ask quick carbs) faster than it will the fats, which will end up improperly digested and lead to weight gain since they’ll be stored and not used for fuel. Have your healthy fats with veggies, low-glycemic fruits, and whole grains instead. Opt for them over a smoothie, oatmeal, in a salad, a vegan entree, or even in a vegan dessert made from whole foods, not with processed sugars. Also be sure to enjoy complex carbs your body needs and desires in place of high sugar foods.

No one diet works for everyone when it comes to plant-based eating and while a whole foods, vegan diet is a prescription for good health, it’s not right to tell your body how many fat grams it needs each day. Use a little here and there and adjust to see what your body tells you it likes. It speaks pretty clearly when you listen closely enough.

Image Source: Raw Coconut Peanut Butter Cups With Chocolate