What’s All This Talk About Body Fat and Your Health?

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March 1, 2022


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March is National Nutrition Month and, now that January has passed and many New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned, it’s time to think seriously – again – about making some lifestyle changes to improve your health, including eating better, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.

According to the American Heart Association, obesity is now recognized as a major, independent risk factor for heart disease. If you’re overweight or obese, you can reduce your risk for heart disease and other chronic health issues simply by losing weight and keeping it off.

Carla Duenas, MS RDN CDCES, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health’s Community Health

“Losing weight and losing fat are two different things,” explains Carla Duenas, MS RDN CDCES, a registered dietitian at Baptist Health’s Community Health. “Water and muscle mass loss may contribute to your overall weight loss but are not healthy to lose.”

Contrary to popular belief, Ms. Duenas says that we cannot control where in our bodies we gain body fat or where we lose it, it’s up to genetics. “Nutrition and exercise can help achieve a desirable body composition, however,” she says.

Ms. Duenas says that instead of focusing on losing weight or following a fad (extreme) diet, focus on the behaviors that are contributing to excess calories in your day. Think about added sugars in your food and drinks and mindless snacking. It’s important to eat a balance of carbs, protein and healthy dietary fats within a calorie range appropriate for each person’s needs.

Good news – and bad – about body fat

“Skinniness is not the ultimate indicator of good health,” says Lucette Talamas, MS RD LDN, a registered dietitian at Baptist Health’s Community Health.

Lucette Talamas
Lucette Talamas, MS RD LDN, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health’s Community Health

“The good news about body fat, or adipose tissue, is that it is stored energy from excess calories which can come from the foods we eat from carbs, protein or dietary fat.” Ms. Talamas notes. “Body fat is essential for maintaining a healthy metabolism.” 

The bad news is that body fat can be stored as either visceral fat or subcutaneous fat. Visceral fat, or belly fat, is stored around the abdominal organs, which can increase diabetes and heart disease risk if stored in excess.

Ms. Talamas goes on to say that is possible to be of normal/healthy weight and have too much visceral fat, which can significantly increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. If you have too much fat — especially around your waist — you’re at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes.

Dietary fat – not the same as body fat

“Dietary fat, the fat you eat in food, not only provides flavor and helps absorb nutrients, it’s also essential for giving your body energy and supporting cell and organ function. Plus, it can help you feel more satisfied during meals and avoid overeating,” says Amy Kimberlain, RDN LDN CDCES, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health’s Community Health. “The goal is to replace foods higher in saturated fat with foods higher in unsaturated fats.”

Amy Kimberlain, RDN LDN CDCES, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health’s Community Health

Ms. Kimberlain advises that quality and quantity matter when it comes to which dietary fats to include.  A healthy diet contains 20-35 percent mostly unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, avocado and fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines.


What you need to know about healthy dietary fats

  • Omega-3 fatty acids are one type of unsaturated fat that can lower inflammation in the body. The body can’t make Omega-3 fatty acids, so it’s important to get it through the foods you eat, like fatty fish, walnuts, chia, flax and hemp seeds.
  • Dietary fats are more calorically dense compared to carbohydrates and proteins. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of their portion size. A diet high in saturated fat can contribute to higher total cholesterol levels. 
  • Limit saturated fats commonly found in animal products and processed foods. One easy swap is to replace butter (saturated fat) with a vegetable oil (unsaturated fat). 

All three dietitians agree that following a nutritious eating pattern doesn’t mean you have to cut out all fat, but rather focus on including healthier fats, which are essential in creating a balanced meal. “One meal doesn’t make or break your health,” Ms. Kimberlain advises. “Instead, focus on the big picture and aim to eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seafood and lean meats, nuts and seeds.”

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Analyzing body fat is becoming an increasingly important tool for helping those who are concerned about getting started on a path toward losing weight and a healthier outlook. Complimentary body fat analyses are available year-round at Baptist Health diagnostic imaging locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Patients must be 21 or over, and a doctor’s prescription is required for the appointment. For more information, please visit BaptistHealth.net/BodyFat or BaptistSalud.net/GrasaCorporal.

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Amy Kimberlain is a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. Ms. Kimberlain has 20 years of experience in nutrition and dietetics and is a media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. 

Carla Duenas is a registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. A passionate promoter of wellness and prevention, and nutrition’s role in managing chronic diseases, Ms. Duenas’ expert tips and advice have been featured in print and broadcast media.

Lucette Talamas is a registered dietitian with Community Health at Baptist Health South Florida. Ms. Talamas enjoys providing practical nutrition information to promote healthy lifestyles that can help prevent and manage chronic diseases. Her expert tips and advice have appeared in print and broadcast media.

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