Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Doughnut versus Avocado

Oct 23, 2014 09:57PM
By Julie Wendt

What’s the difference between eating a chocolate glazed doughnut and a cup of avocado?  Based on the conventional model of calorie counting guidelines, they are the same. However, functional nutritionists would argue that the impact they have on the body is more like comparing apples to oranges.

The quality of nutrients in a doughnut pales in comparison to an avocado and although they contain the comparable amounts of calories and fat, your body reacts differently to each food due to the constellation of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are present (or lacking). In short, a calorie is not a calorie. Likewise, when we look closely at a particular nutrient, such as dietary fat, we can quickly see that not all nutrients are created equal either.

Dietary fat has become the latest topic in a long list of nutrition advice that leaves most of us confused and skeptical. A recent article in the Annals of Internal Medicine has reignited the mainstream debate over the role of dietary fat in overall health in general and cardiovascular disease in particular.

What’s a healthy skeptic to do?  Understanding the answers to three basic questions will help bring clarity to the role fat plays in a healthy diet. Follow this three-part series to consider the why, what and how of dietary fat.

Why eat fat?

A common concern when clients are advised to increase the amount of fat in their diet is that eating fat will make them gain weight. However, in a 2012 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers looked at four weight-loss diets to see if differences in the macronutrient composition (also known as the percent of protein, fat and carbohydrate) of the diet impacted weight-loss and found that there was no difference.

Dietary fat not only helps keep us full longer and makes food taste better, it plays vital roles in our body from the cell membrane to the complex communication system that governs our metabolic pathways.

As a critical structural component of each cell and physiologically active nutrient, below are a few highlights:

The primary role of fat in our metabolism is to supply and store energy. It is the most energy-dense macronutrient and provides an abundant source of energy on the one hand and an efficient way to store excess energy on the other hand. The association with the latter function being the source of fat’s bad reputation when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.

Every cell is circled by a layer of fat that acts to selectively allow nutrients in and keep toxins out as well as foster communication between cells. The types of fat that make up the cell’s membrane are determined in part by the types of fat that you eat. A combination of quality fats can provide the structure and flexibility that make for healthy cells and when our cells are healthy, our bodies will be healthy as well.

Dietary fat is required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K nutrients which are critical to supporting the function of eyes, the health of bones, our ability to fight free-radicals and to clot blood effectively.

As a precursor to sex hormones and hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, fat provides the structural framework for many key processes such as the regulation of male and female hormonal cycles, secretion of stomach acid, control of the inflammatory process and regulation of blood pressure and body temperature.

Our brains are made mostly of fat. Especially critical to growing children, dietary fat supports the entire nervous system from the brain itself down to the coating of each neuron. Thus, our ability to balance our mood, think critically, and fight infections rely on the availability of fat.

For all of these reasons and more, eating fat is essential to health and longevity. Stay tuned for the second part of this discussion which looks at the second question: What kind of dietary fat promotes health?

Sources: Chang, K., Chen, J., & Ke, D. (2009), Chowdhury, R. (2014), Gropper, S. A., & Smith, J. L. (2013),, Wilson, J. H., & Hunt, T. (2002).

 Julie Wendt consults with people of all ages about integrative diet and lifestyle changes. Connect with her at [email protected] 


Global Brief
Health Brief