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chopping cutting salmon

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 210 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

With all of this back-and-forth between doctors, researchers, dietitians and nutritionists, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to know what we should be eating each day, especially when it comes to fat.

There are different forms of vegetarianism. The word “vegetarian” means you do not consume any animal flesh, specifically. But there are some that do eat animal flesh and are specific about which animals they consume. For example, if someone is a lacto-ovo vegetarian, they consume lactose (milk) and ovo (eggs); a lacto-ovo vegetarian eats mostly plant-based foods, with the exception of milk (or anything made from milk like cheese and butter) and eggs. A pescatarian consumes plant-based foods, but also fish (where “pesce” basically means fish).

Recommended Macronutrient Levels

There is a recommendation for different levels of macronutrients. This recommendation is called the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (abbreviated AMDR). Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins are considered “macronutrients”– so the AMDR outlines the acceptable range for each of these “macros.”

Here’s what’s recommended. We should consume anywhere from:

  • 45-65% of our Calories each day from carbohydrate
  • 10-35% of our Calories each day from protein
  • 20-35% of our Calories each day from fat

If you want to know what percentage of each macronutrient you are consuming, it does require you to keep some good food records and then doing some math. There are apps that will do the work for you as well.

Different Types of Fats?

This 20-35% of Calories coming from fat each day does not specify types of fat–this recommendation just states that the total amount of fat you consume should be between 20 and 35% of your total calories.

Total fat isn’t necessarily as important as the types of fat people eat.

It can be assumed that a pescatarian might be consuming mostly “healthy” fats. How do I know this? Fish is very low in what many call “bad fats.” These bad fats are saturated and transfat. Both of these fats are called bad fats because they have been linked with an increased risk for disease, like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even some forms of cancer. Saturated fats are found in both plant and animal products, but are found in large quantities in meat.

Trans fats are found in processed foods like:

  • boxed crackers
  • cookies
  • cakes
  • doughnuts
  • crescent rolls
  • pies

But, the fats found in most fish are not saturated or trans fats. Instead, they are what we call polyunsaturated fats. These fats can include omega-3 fatty acids, for example. These fats actually promote health by preventing disease.

Is Eating Too Much Healthy Bad For You?

Most likely. The one thing I would caution is that even if a pescatarian gets most of her fats from fish, it can still be stored as body fat pretty easily. The other issue is that many foods high in fat are also high in calories. So, over time, it’s possible that this may lead to weight gain.

I should also mention that polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3’s, are not the only “healthy fats.” Another healthy fat is monounsaturated fat. You’ll find monounsaturated fat in olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds. But, again, this doesn’t mean you should go out and eat lots of olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds; instead, it’s a good idea to include these foods in your diet.

I wouldn't stress too much about decreasing fat intake to meet the recommendations (for someone who eats a lot of healthy fats), unless one of these 3 things are happening to you:

  1. When your doctor checks your blood cholesterol levels, you discover they are running high
  2. You are finding you are gaining weight and you didn’t want to
  3. You are experiencing loose stools or diarrhea. If you are feeling great and you are not experiencing one or more of these, I wouldn’t worry about it.

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 210 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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Neal Malik

Dr. Neal Malik ("Dr. Neal") is currently a professor at California State University, San Bernardino. Before this, he served as Department Chair at Bastyr University California. Dr. Neal has also published peer-reviewed scientific research and presented at national conferences.Send in your health related question and Dr. Neal will answer it on the Optimal Health Daily show!
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