Are you new to veganism and wondering how much fat to eat? Or are you trying to lose weight with a plant-based diet and wondering if vegan fats are making you fat?
Most of us are familiar with the ‘low-cal low-fat’ culture where fats have been demonized and blamed for every health and weight problem.
On the other hand, there is a trend of fad diets claiming that fats are the way to a ripped body and superhuman health.
So, what is the truth?
We’ll explore it in this article where you will learn everything you need to know about fats, their role in your body, which ones to eat, and how much you need to support your health and fitness goals.
The Basics of Fats
Before we focus on fats in a vegan diet, let’s take a quick look at fats in general since they are not only present in vegan foods
Fats are one of the 3 macronutrients that make up the calories we consume along with carbohydrates and proteins and they are equally essential.
They are necessary to dissolve certain vitamins into your bloodstream and provide essential nutrients.
But not all fats are the same, depending on their type, some types of fats are beneficial and essential for our health and others can be prejudicial.
Which is why is important to understand the difference.
Types of Fats
Some fats can contribute to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases while others are indispensable to promote good health.
Knowing the difference is key to know which ones to keep in your diet and which ones to avoid. Let’s learn more about them below.
1. Saturated fats
Saturated fats are mostly (but not exclusively) found in animal products such as hight fat meats and dairy products.
This type of fats is associated with health risks if a person consumes too much over a long period since they can eventually raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in the body. This, in turn, increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
There’s no dietary requirement for saturated fat because your body produces all that it needs.By Elizabeth M. Ward, MS, RD
However, there is no need to completely avoid foods with saturated fat in the name of good health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people eat no more than 13 grams of saturated fat per day.
Some sources of saturated fat include:
- animal meats and meat products
- high-fat dairy foods (whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream)
Vegan sources of saturated fats
Summary: Saturated fats are found mostly in animal foods but they can also be found in some vegan products like vegetable oils. There is no need to consume saturated fats for health reasons but if you choose to do it, it shouldn’t be more than 13 grams a day.
2. Trans fats
Put simply, trans fats are not good for you. They are not a type of fat found in nature but have been manufactured and became popular when food companies found them easy to use and cheap to produce.
Trans fat can also come from vegan sources and they are equally prejudicial for your health.
They not essential and they have damaging health effects like raise levels of LDL cholesterol and lower levels of HDL cholesterol. This increases the risk of heart disease, inflammation, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
Sources of trans fats can include:
- fried foods, such as french fries
- doughnuts, pies, pastries, biscuits, and other baked goods
- pizza dough, cookies, and crackers
- stick margarine and shortenings
- packaged foods
- fast foods
- vegetable shortening
- processed snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn)
Summary: Trans Fats are not essential and have damaging health effects. They can be found in vegan foods such as fast foods, baked goods, and processed food. Any amount of these fats increases health risks but the AHA advises that consumption should not exceed 5–6% of a person’s total caloric intake.
3. Monounsaturated fats
Monosaturated fats are considered ‘good fats’. Studies have shown they can decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer risk, inflammation, insulin resistance, and improve blood cholesterol levels (when paired with a reduction of saturated fat intake).
Monounsaturated fats also help develop and maintain your cells.
This type of helpful fat is present in most plant and animal foods, but some foods are especially rich in them.
- nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)
- vegetable oils (olive oil, peanut oil)
- nuts and nut butters
Diets high in monounsaturated fats can also help with weight loss as long as they don’t add extra calories to your diet.
Summary: Monounsaturated fats can be found in many plant based foods and provide a wide range of health benefits. The general recommendation is to not get more than 25% to 30% of your daily calories from fats including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated foods.
4. Polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats are a type of healthy fat that includes omega-3 and omega-6, which are considered essential fatty acids because our bodies can’t make them, so we must obtain them from food
Besides being essential for brain health, the Office of Dietary Statistics says that omega-3 acids could help reduce triglycerides in the blood, improve brain, joint, and eye health and keep the heart healthy by lowering blood cholesterol levels and, possibly, inflammation.
The following types of foods contain omega-3 fatty acids:
- chia seeds
- canola oil
- Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
The other type of polyunsaturated fats are omega-6 fatty acids which are found in vegetable oils and processed foods. When eaten in moderation and in place of the saturated fats, omega–6 fatty acids can be good for your heart, but in excess, they can lead to increased inflammation.
The following foods contain both omega 3 and omega-6 fatty acids:
- roasted soybeans and soy nut butter
- seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds)
- vegetable oils (corn oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil)
- soft margarine (liquid or tub)
Summary: Polyunsaturated fats contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids which are vital for our brain health and we must get from foods since our bodies don’t produce. Vegan foods of polyunsaturated fats include walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil, soy, and soy products.
Vegan Fats Facts
Now we have gone through the basics of fats in general, let’s talk about some important aspects of fats in a plant-based diet that every vegan should know about.
Vegan Fats and Fatty Acids
Most people following plant-based diets have no problem getting enough omega-3s in their diets. One study found that people who follow vegan diets, on average, have intakes above the recommended amounts for omega-3 fats.Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
As I mentioned in the previous section, there are two fatty acids that are considered essential because our bodies cannot make them and they have a vital role in our health, immune system, brain, nerves, and eyes.
- Omega-6 fat is the easy one to get for vegans since it’s quite abundant in plant-based foods so you don’t need to worry about getting enough.
- Omega-3 fat, however, is inconveniently rare in the plants, so eating enough may require some careful planning.
These fatty acids are essential for your health but they can also be damaging when consumed in the wrong ratios.
The average Western diet contains around 20 times more omega-6s than omega-3’s. This severely disproportionate ratio has devastating health implications, as huge intakes of omega-6’s are directly linked to the rise of obesity, cancer, autoimmune disease, and heart disease.
This also applies to vegans since omega-6s are abundant in some plant foods such as seed oils and processed foods.
Getting the right ratio of Fatty Acids as a Vegan
Getting enough omega-3s while not getting too much omega-6s doesn’t have to be as complicated as it sounds.
You can address the root cause of the Omega 3/6 imbalance and enjoy the health benefits by Cutting down on seed oils (Soy, Corn, Canola, Safflower, Sunflower, etc.), margarine, and processed/junk food (including fries).
Getting the right balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fats is important. Your body can make ALA into other omega-3 fats, including eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). However, if you eat a lot of LA, your body may convert less ALA into EPA and DHA, reducing the amount of omega-3 fat in your blood.Vegan Society
The closer you get to a completely whole foods diet the less Omega 6’s you will be consuming per day.
If you still do want to supplement Omega 3’s, there are multiple plant-based foods, and supplements that are valuable sources of omega fatty acids.
But wait, Omega-3s can be of 3 different types themselves…
ALA, EPA and DHA for Vegans
Without getting too sciency with this, all you need to know is that Omega 3 fatty acids can be of 3 different types: ALA, DHA & EPA.
The latter two are found in fish, seafood, and algae and are the ones responsible for all of the above-listed health benefits.
In comparison, common plant food sources of Omega 3’s like chia, flaxseed & walnuts contain the Omega 3 ALA.
Unfortunately for vegans, Omega 3 ALA is not as active in the body and must be converted to DHA & EPA to bestow the same health benefits. To top it off, studies show that our bodies can only convert about 5% of ALA into EPA/DHA.
Ok, but what does this all mean for you??
To sum it up, If you eat a vegan diet, you have two options for getting the recommended dietary intake of long-chain Omega 3’s.
- Eat enough plant-based foods that contain ALA. For optimal health, dietary guidelines recommend consuming 400 mg/day of EPA/DHA Omega-3. If we consider that only 5% converts into EPA/DHA, you should aim for 8,000mg of ALA/day.
This would mean consuming 4 Tbsp of chia seeds, or 5 tbsp of ground flaxseeds. While not impossible, it could be hard to ensure every single day.
- Supplement with a Vegan DHA/EPA Algae supplement. If you want to make sure to get your DHA/EPA every day, you can get a vegan supplement made from algae (which is where fish get it from anyway). Research shows that the DHA/EPA present in Marine Algae oil is safe and just as bioavailable as that found in fish.
My recommendation: get a Vegan Omega 3 DHA/EPA Supplement every day and add Omega 3 rich plant foods such as chia, hemp, and ground flaxseeds to your diet to ensure you are getting plenty of these essential fats and their benefits
Vegan Fats and Oil
In case you are not familiar with them, oil-free vegan diets are a thing and oils are not as healthy as most of us used to think.
If you were like me and were proud of tossing your salads with a tablespoon of ‘hearth-healthy’ olive oil, you will want to pay attention to the facts on this section.
I first learned about the not-so-positive aspects of oil when I was doing some research online about acne, causes, and possible cures. I had acne it since I was 13 and as a 25-year-old vegan, I was still struggling with it.
When I first learned about the correlation between oil, acne, and inflammation it all seemed pretty obvious to me and I was wondering how I didn’t think of it before (nor did the dozen of dermatologists I visited).
But not only did I learn about the negative effects of oil for acne but many other health-concerning fats you should considering about oil in your vegan diet:
- Oils are very dense in calories and low in nutrition. If you want to keep a healthy, fit body, one simple goal is to get as many nutrients as you can in the fewest calories possible. Oils are the opposite, they have 4,000 calories per pound, some omega-3 fatty acids, and virtually nothing else. See how they compared to other food in the table below.
- Oils increase factors that contribute to heart disease and clogged arteries. One study found that adding either 60 ml of olive, soybean, or palm oil to a potato soup meal all resulted in a 32.1% decrease in flow-mediated dilatation which means a reduced capacity for the blood vessels to relax and dilate (a risk factor for clogged arteries).
Another study showed similar results using olive oil in a 900 kcal meal with 50 grams of fat, reducing flow-mediated vasodilation by 31%, and also increasing triglyceride levels.
- Processed and Seed oils are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids which can raise your blood pressure, lead to blood clots that can cause heart attack and stroke, and cause your body to retain water.
It has also been proven that diets containing large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids found mostly in seed oils, have been linked to increased levels of inflammation and acne.
Summary: Oils present several health dangers and add no benefits to a vegan diet. They are also very high in calories and low in nutrition which makes them one of the poorest sources of energy. Consider cutting out or limiting oils from your plant-based diet to avoid health risks and make better use of those calories.
Vegan Fat & Diets
Veganism is not a diet but a moral life stance but a lot of people who adopt a plant-based diet are also interested in the health or aesthetics benefits.
However, a plant-based diet is not an automatic ticket to a lean, tonned, and athletic body. While a whole foods vegan diet is naturally healthier and lower in calories than an animal-based one, you can still be an unhealthy or overweight vegan if you choose to eat mostly junk food or too many calories for long periods of time.
So, let’s take a look at fat in the vegan diet and how much to eat for your fitness and aesthetic goals.
How much fat to eat on a vegan diet?
At this point, you probably understand the importance, benefits, and dangers of fats in a vegan diet but, how much exactly should you be eating?
As with any dietary recommendation, it depends. Factor like your age, weight, gender, lifestyle, and body composition goals will have an impact on how much fats you need.
But for now, let’s take a look at the general recommendations…
For vegans who are looking to improve their diet for optimal long-term health, government recommendations state that the total amount of fat in their diets should not exceed 35% of their total caloric intake.
This can be a tricky calculation to make if you are If you are not interested in tracking calories or macronutrients. In that case, a good measure to consider is 70g of fat for females and 95g for males.
These recommendations include favoring fats that come from ‘good’ and healthy sources while limiting processed and saturated fats.
Reaching these targets is easy if you make it a point to add some healthy fat sources to every meal. Below you will find a list of healthy fat sources and how many grams of fat they provide so you can easily incorporate them into your diet.
If you want to gain muscle and losing fat, there are other recommendations you must consider to optimize the fats on your vegan diet.
How Much Fat Do You Need to Build Muscle as a Vegan?
When people think of building muscle on a vegan diet, their first concern is protein and that is logical. We all know that protein literally provides the building blocks for muscle but it is not the only macronutrient you should keep an eye on.
Dietary fat also plays a key role in supporting and optimizing muscle growth since it has been proven to influence levels of hormone such as testosterone which is responsible for increased muscle mass.
It might seem logical to think that a vegan diet low in fats can affect testorone levels significantly but research is still inconclusive and contradictory.
- One study put a group of male test subjects on either a 41% fat diet or a 19% fat diet. While the fat intake for the second group was 50% less, their testosterone levels were only 13% lower.
- Another relevant study gave 26 male volunteers a traditional WFPB diet high in unprocessed whole foods like fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains. After 26 days they had experienced no change in testosterone levels.
- Finally, one study on the effect diet has on hormones in vegan males showed that vegans surprisingly had 13% higher testosterone levels than vegetarians and meat-eaters.
So, what does that mean when it comes to how much fats you should as a vegan to build muscle?
While some studies show that a fat intake of 20% vs 30-40% may slightly lower testosterone levels, it is also a fact that vegans have higher baseline levels due to a lower BMI (body mass index).
The truth is that when it comes to increasing your testosterone, quality sleep, physical activity, and weight management have a bigger impact than a 10% difference in your fat intake, which is not likely to have any impact whatsoever on your muscle gains anyway.
Unless you have a particular medical condition, or lower testosterone, to begin with, keeping your fats below 35% will help you get your essential nutrients without affecting your muscle gains.
How Much Fat to Eat to Lose Fat as a Vegan?
If your goals are to lose weight and more specifically fat, you need to create a consistent caloric deficit. This means eating fewer calories than what you burn on a daily basis so your body is ‘forced’ to use fat stores as an energy source.
But as you might have noticed by now is not only calories that matter but also their type and percentages.
You can lose weight with a caloric deficit but if you don’t pay attention to your protein, carbohydrates, and fats (macros) you can end up losing muscle instead of fat. This would not give you the aesthetics results you want plus it would slow down your metabolism affecting your long-term goals.
So, what does this mean for your fat intake?
Logically, if you are going to cut down your caloric intake, you will need to cut down on fats as well, even more considering that, with 9 calories per grams, fats are more calorically dense than carbohydrates and protein which offer 4 calories per gram.
Additionally, you want to maintain your protein high to maintain and support your muscle mass and make sure you are losing mainly fat.
What about carbs? It has been proven that a high-protein and high-carb approach is better for muscle maintenance than one that prioritizes fats over carbs.
This is because a low carb diet will deplete glycogen stores and prejudice your workout performance, which is not good for any type of fitness goal.
On the other hand, a low-fat diet can result in a reduction in circulating testosterone which is why the recommendation for a bodybuilder is to keep a fat intake of 15-20% of the total calories.
This will allow you to get important nutrients like Omega-3s while keeping your testosterone levels healthy and creating a caloric deficit that allows for fat loss.
Keep in mind that all these recommendations should be paired with an exercise regime that supports fat loss and muscle maintenance.
Low Fat vs. High Fat Vegan Diets
At this point, you might have noticed that all health and fitness recommendations for a plant-based diet point towards a moderate-protein, high-carb, low-fat intake.
But with the popularization of high-fat diets like keto, vegans also wonder what is the deal with high-fats and if they could benefit from the weight loss properties of a diet that favors fats over carbs.
So, here are some factors to consider next time someone tells you about their newfound love for the keto diet.
High-fat diets: Keto
- The keto diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carb diet that has the ultimate goal of a metabolic effect called ketosis.
- Your body’s regular source of energy is glucose which is produced from carbs . However, if you reduce your carb intake to a minimum while increasing fat, it can switch to produce blood ketones as a source of energy.
- It can create health benefits like weight loss, and possible control type 2 diabetes and blood pressure.
- On the downside, this type of high-fat low-carb diet relies heavily on animal-based products that have been proven to create health issues such as increasing the chances of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and other cardiovascular problems.
- Additionally, it might take a while for your body to adapt and you can get flu-like symptoms In the first week or two. Even after that, a single cheat day can take your body out of ketosis which make this diet highly unsustainable.
A vegan high-fat diet?
- While a vegan keto or high-fat diet would significantly reduce the health issues of animal products, the food options would be quite limited which would make it even less sustainable and would cut down on many important sources of nutrients.
- Research shows that a plant-based diet can support long-term weight loss while reducing saturated and trans fats that may cause heart issues and reducing your impact on the environment significantly
- Overall, there is no reason to change your body’s natural source of energy when you can get the same health and weight loss benefits plus many added ones with a plant-based diet.
Healthy Vegan Fat Sources
Now that you know everything about fats on the vegan diet, let’s take a look at some of the best vegan fat sources you can add to your diet.
- Avocado: Aside from being absolutely delicious, avocados contain 80% fat, in the form of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, specifically oleic acid. Oleic acid is not only anti-inflammatory but it lowers LDL cholesterol and increases the healthy HDL cholesterol, reducing your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease.
- Olives: Rich in healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. They are also high in antioxidants and provides powerful anti-inflammatory benefits, which may reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, and other serious health conditions.
- Cacao Nibs: Great source of fiber, iron, and antioxidants. Raw cacao nibs are high in protein and fiber which promotes healthy digestion. They also have heart health benefits since they contain heart-healthy flavonoids which lower the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Coconut: Coconut is a high source of saturated fat in the form of medium-chain triglycerides, which are sent directly to the liver ready to be used as energy rather than be stored. Coconut fat also supports the immune system due to the anti-microbial properties of its fatty acids and is a great source of minerals.
- Chia Seeds: High in essential healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are packed with other essential nutrients including protein, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Omega- 3 fats are also important for the absorption of nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. Chia seeds are also a wonderful non-dairy source of calcium as well as potassium and magnesium.
- Flaxseeds: Are considered a superfood due to its high content of omega-3 and more importantly, excellent omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Flaxseeds also contain protein, fiber, iron, calcium, and polyphenol antioxidants, too, making them a great nutritional all-rounder.
- Hemp seeds are a good source of polyunsaturated and essential fatty acids. Similarly to flaxseeds, they have about a 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which is considered in the optimal range. They also contain plenty of protein, fiber, vitamin E, and minerals, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
- Soybeans are one of the legumes with the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids while being low in saturated fat. Furthermore, they are also a good source of calcium, fiber, and B vitamins, too. Soybeans are also a great source of vegan protein which can be consumed in many ways such as soy milk, tofu, and tempeh.
Recommended: Is Tofu Good For You?
- Tahini is a sesame seed butter and of the main ingredients in hummus. It is rich in healthy fats and proteins and tastes delicious. Tahini is a tasty way to add powerful antioxidants and healthy fats to your diet, as well as several vitamins and minerals. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, and its health benefits may include reducing risk factors for heart disease and protecting brain health.
- Pistachios: A great healthy fat snack rich in potassium and high in antioxidants. They are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and various nutrients, including vitamin B6 and thiamine. They can also provide weight loss benefits, lower cholesterol, and blood sugar, and promote gut, health.
- Cashew nuts are rich in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. They contain a variety of vitamins, minerals, and may promote weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health. They have a higher protein content vs other nuts and provide vitamin K and zinc.
- Almonds are rich in monosaturated and will also give you a boost in electrolytes like potassium. They lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and are packed with vitamin E, magnesium, and potassium, which helps oxygen and nutrients flow more freely through the blood. Like other nuts, they are high in calories so consume them mindfully.
- Walnuts: Are rich in antioxidants and polyunsaturated fats, providing a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Studies have shown that eating walnuts can help lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol in particular, but also lower your cholesterol overall.
- Nuts and Seeds Butters are another way to enjoy these foods with fruit, veggies, oatmeal, or whole wheat bread. Just make sure you look out for no added sugar, artificial flavors, hydrogenated oils, and minimal added salt.
|Vegan Fat Source
|Mono-unsaturated Fat (grams)
Vegan Fats FAQ
Does Eating Fat A Vegan Make you Fat?
While there is no direct correlation between fat consumption and weight gain, eating a surplus of calories of any type of macronutrient will eventually lead to gaining fat and fat.
A vegan diet is already high in carbohydrates since they are abundant in plants so in order to maintain your desired weight or even lose some of it, the ideal fat intake should be no more than 30% of your calories (while keeping your calories in a maintenance or deficit level.).
If you want to learn more about calculating your calories and macronutrients make sure to check out this article on Vegan Macros.
Why am I gaining weight on a vegan diet?
In most cases the answers comes down to eating more calories than you are burning. People tend to understimate the calories they eat and overstiimated the calories they burn so if you find that you are gaingin weight with a plant-based diet the first step I recommned is to calculate your caloric expenditure and track your meals for a few days.
You can find out how to do that in this article about Vegan Weight Loss
Also, if you are just transitioning to a vegan diet from an animal-based diet it might seem like you are gaining weight but it can be that your body retaining water. Plant foods are naturally higher in glucose and fiber which can cause your body to bloat and retain more water at the beginning. But if this is the case, it is just temporary and shouldn’t last more than 3 weeks.
Is vegan food high in fat?
Generally speaking, vegan foods tend to have a higher ratio of carbohydrates than of fats but you can also find some vegan fat sources like nuts and seeds.
Moreover, vegan whole foods, tend to be lower in saturated fat than those containing meat and animal products and provide a higher content of unsaturated fats. That being said, any vegan food can contain unhealthy and even trans fats when fried
If you are new to veganism, it can take some time to adjust and find a diet that works for you, your health and fitness goals but by eating a whole foods plant-based diet you are immediately leaving out many of the unhealthy and dangerous saturated and trans fats that exist on animal products.
Hopefully, you have gotten some ideas on the great vegan fat sources to add to your diets as well as how much to eat for health or if you are trying to lose fat or gain muscle. There are many sources of healthy vegan fats but remember that not because a food is vegan it is necessarily healthy since vegan pastries, baked goods and fries can also contain unhealthy fats.
While you can get all your essential fatty acids from whole foods, you need to pay close attention to your meal to get enough Omega-3s every day. If you want to be confident that you are getting all the nutrients your need, you can enhance your diet with an algae-based Vegan Omega 3 DHA/EPA Supplement.
- Are you wondering how to put together a vegan diet? Check out this article on a 28-Day Healthy Vegan Meal Plan.
- Want to lose weight as a vegan? Make sure to read these 6 Tips for Vegan Weight Loss.
- Think you can’t build muscle with plants? Read this article and learn the Basics of Vegan Gains.