Rethinking Fat’s Essential Role in a Healthy Diet

For years, the narrative surrounding dietary fat has largely been negative, with fats demonised as the culprit behind weight gain, heart disease, and various health woes. This perspective led to the rise of low-fat diets, with many shunning fats in pursuit of better health. However, recent research, including a comprehensive study by E Meijaard et al., published in Frontiers in Nutrition in 2022, challenges these notions, illustrating the critical role fats play in nutrition, their environmental considerations, and the importance of consuming the right types of fat for overall health.

The Misunderstood Nutrient

Dietary fats are essential for human health, serving not just as a significant energy source but also as structural components of cell membranes, facilitators for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), and providers of essential fatty acids the body cannot synthesise. Meijaard et al.’s study underscores the necessity of fats, stating that about 25-30% of our daily energy needs should come from fats. This revelation is part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that the quality of fat consumed is more significant than the quantity when it comes to health impacts.

Analysis of Meijaard et al.’s Study

The study by Meijaard and colleagues is a pivotal piece of evidence highlighting not only the nutritional importance of fats but also the need for sustainability in fat production. By acknowledging the environmental impacts of oil crop production and advocating for sustainable practices, the study provides a holistic view of fat consumption that encompasses health, nutrition, and environmental stewardship.

This research also calls for a shift in dietary guidelines to reflect the nuances of fat consumption, advocating for a diet that includes a higher proportion of plant-based fats, while also recognising the cultural and economic factors influencing fat consumption worldwide.

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Practical Tips for Fitness Professionals

Given the evolving understanding of dietary fats, fitness professionals have a pivotal role in guiding their clients towards healthier fat consumption while balancing caloric intake. Here are practical tips to ensure clients consume enough “good” fats within their daily caloric expenditure, averaged out over a week:

  • Educate on Fat Types: Teach clients about the different types of fats – monounsaturated, polyunsaturated (including omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), saturated, and trans fats. Highlight the health benefits of omega-3 and omega-6 fats found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and certain oils, and advise on limiting saturated and trans fats.
  • Emphasise Whole Foods: Encourage the consumption of fats from whole food sources like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil, and fatty fish. These foods provide essential nutrients beyond fats, contributing to overall health.
  • Incorporate Fats in Meals Thoughtfully: Guide clients on how to incorporate healthy fats into their meals without exceeding their caloric needs. For example, adding a slice of avocado to a salad or cooking with a small amount of olive oil can enhance nutrient absorption without significantly increasing calories.
  • Balance the Plate: Teach clients about portion control and balancing their plates – a small portion of healthy fats, lean protein, plenty of vegetables, and whole grains can create a satisfying, nutritious meal that supports health goals.
  • Weekly Caloric Averaging: Help clients understand that daily caloric intake can vary as long as the weekly average aligns with their energy expenditure and health goals. This approach offers flexibility to include healthy fats in their diet without guilt or fear of exceeding daily caloric limits.
  • Dispel Myths: Combat fat phobia by educating clients on the findings from studies like Meijaard et al.’s, which promote the consumption of healthy fats and challenge the outdated notion that all fats are harmful.


  • GPT Meijaard, E., Abrams, J. F., Slavin, J. L., & Sheil, D. (2022). Dietary fats, human nutrition and the environment: balance and sustainability. Frontiers in Nutrition, 9, 878644. Click here to review the full research article

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