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Fats, Carbs, and Calories

The Difference Between Fats, Carbs, and Calories and Each Type

Nutrition plays such a critical role in supporting optimal wellness and helping us reach our health and fitness goals. But, it can be challenging to know what's actually considered “healthy” and what’s not. With so many fad diets and different ways of eating, things can get confusing.

To help clear the air, we’re breaking down the difference between fats, carbs, and calories and sharing all the details on the good, the bad, and the ugly, so you know what a balanced diet looks like.

Fats

While fats have received a bad rap in the past, the keto and paleo craze has really shed light on how important healthy fats are. In fact, the body needs fat to function and for supporting countless body processes. Healthy fats play a role in: (1)

  • Helping the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins.
  • Supporting energy and cell growth.
  • Helping protect our organs.
  • Supporting hormone production.

However, not all fats are created equal. There are healthy fats, and then the inflammatory, damaging fats we need to steer clear of. Let’s take a closer look at the kinds of fat you would want to include in your diet and the ones to avoid.

The Good
  • Monounsaturated fats — found in foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.
  • Polyunsaturated Fats — these fats are mostly found in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and seed oils.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids — heart-healthy and rich in anti-inflammatory benefits, enjoy foods like wild-caught fish, walnuts, flax, chia, and hemp seeds to optimize your omega-3 intake.
The Bad
  • Trans & Hydrogenated fats — trans fats are by-products of hydrogenation, which is a process that turns oils into solids, which prevents them from spoiling. They are extremely inflammatory and have been linked to an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol and even in small amounts can be damaging to our health. To avoid trans and hydrogenated fats, avoid things like margarine, pastries, and fast food. Always read the nutrition labels on foods and avoid anything that’s labeled as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated.
  • Saturated fats — while there are some conflicting studies on the pros and cons of certain saturated fats, there’s one thing most health experts can agree on — it’s been to steer clear of processed fats (like deli meat and large consumptions of red meat) and choose healthier fats instead. Generally speaking, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is to limit saturated fat intake to 10% of calories per day and to replace these fats with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. (2)

Carbs

Carbs have become another hot topic in the wellness industry as more attention is put on lower-carb diets. While not everyone thrives on low carb eating, there are definitely some carbohydrates that all of us should avoid. Here’s the good and the bad when determining which carbohydrates to consider enjoying and which to limit from your diet.

The Good
  • Complex carbohydrates — complex carbs pack in nutritional value, and since they are much higher in fiber than simple carbs, they take longer to digest, so they are less likely to cause a sudden blood sugar spike.

Some great health options include:

      • Nuts
      • Beans
      • Lentils
      • Rolled oats
      • Buckwheat
      • Quinoa
      • Vegetables
      • Berries
      • Apples
      • Bananas
The Bad

Simple carbs are the ones to steer clear of as they are void of nutritional value and fiber, making them much more likely to spike blood sugar levels.

Simple carbs include foods like:

      • Pastries and other baked goods
      • Soda & fruit juice
      • Sugary breakfast cereal
      • Candy
      • Table sugar

Related reading: Good vs Bad Carbs

Calories

Let’s talk calories — they are something we all talk about, especially when it comes to weight loss or dieting. The thing about calories is that there are nutrient-dense calories that will help fuel your body with the energy it needs to function at its best, and then there are empty calories that won’t provide the body with anything beneficial at all. Let’s take a closer look at both.

The Good

Nutrient-dense Calories — these are going to give you the best bang for your buck in every bite you take. Think dark leafy greens, beans, nuts, seeds, avocados — these all pack in a ton of nutritional value, including important vitamins and minerals your body thrives on. These are the calories you want more of.

The Bad

Empty Calories — empty calories are unfortunately found in plenty of foods in the Standard American Diet. They carry very little, if any, nutritional value, despite the fact that they are high in calories.

  • Fried and processed foods
  • Anything that contains high fructose corn syrup
  • Foods that contain trans or hydrogenated fats

Optimize Your Intake of The Right Balance of Foods

They are high in all the ingredients the body doesn’t need (like sugar and hydrogenated fats) and void of the nutrients we need more of like fiber and healthy fats.

To steer clear of empty calories, avoid foods like:

  • Soda & juice
  • Pastries
  • Candy

While there’s no one size fits all when it comes to healthy eating, enjoying a balance of healthy fats, carbs, protein, and wholesome, nutrient-dense calories is key.

So, if you are looking to clean up your diet a bit, start by focusing on optimizing your intake of whole and unprocessed foods first — enjoy as many foods that don’t come packaged in a box as possible and stay away from processed fats and empty calories.

In time, it will just become second-nature to choose whole foods over processed options, and you may find that cleaner eating helps you feel better than you have in a long time!

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