In a world filled with fake news, it’s understandable that many people are still confused about including healthy fats in their diet. The dietary advice surrounding fats varies which is why it is important to know the different types of fats and how they work.
Healthy fats are responsible for many roles.
These include properly working hormones, assimilation of protein and minerals, maintaining cell membrane flexibility and insulating our internal organs and nerves. Fat is also a main source of energy. Healthy fats are important for adequate growth and development. They are also critical for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and nutrients such as beta-carotene and lycopene. In terms of weight loss, fat provides satiety, often causing us to eat less. It’s also tasty. Palatability is one of the primary reasons that processed foods with the label “reduced fat” replace the fat with sugar and salt.
The best source of healthy fats are from those occurring in natural foods.
Let’s dive into the different types of fat. Saturated fats are often solid at room temperature and are highly stable. This means that when you heat them for cooking they will not go rancid during the heating process. You can find saturated fats in full-fat dairy products, butter, coconut oil, palm oil, goat’s milk and meat.
Monounsaturated fats are often liquid at room temperature but will turn solid if refrigerated. Examples include olive oil, olives, avocados and nuts. These fats are also good for low-heat cooking. Polyunsaturated fats are “essential” fats because our body does not make them and therefore we need to obtain them from the foods we eat. Fish, whole grains, nuts, seeds, eggs and vegetables are excellent sources of these fats. Polyunsaturated fats also include the important omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are not good for cooking and are also sensitive to light and oxygen.
Essential fatty acids need to be in the right ratio.
Both mono- and polyunsaturated fats have been touted as the “good fats” although the devil is in the details. Many oils made of polyunsaturated fats are highly processed, causing negative effects on our health. Overconsumption of omega-6 fatty acids is another issue. Ideally the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in our diet should be 1:1. However, the standard American diet has more like a 1 to 20 ratio! According to Dee McCaffrey, CDC and author of The Science of Skinny, the health implications from overconsumption of polyunsaturated fats are many. These range from digestive disorders, liver disease and weight gain to heart disease and cancer.
Trans fats wreak havoc in our body.
Over the years, saturated fat has been linked to heart disease. Many claimed that it was the primary cause of heart attacks. Dietitians and doctors recommended its elimination from people’s diets. It is only after many decades of promoting “low fat” diets, which often replaced the healthy fats with added sugars, sodium and trans fats, that researchers realized that eating this way actually made people sicker and fatter. Trans fats, made through a process called hydrogenation, are in part responsible for this epidemic. These processed fats turn liquid fats into solids to extend shelf life for grocery products. Artificial oils are toxic to our body and may cause inflammation and obesity to strokes and heart attacks. If there is one fat you should absolutely avoid, it is trans fats!
Natural forms of saturated fat are important for many aspects of our health.
Many studies, both new and old, have shown the health benefits of saturated fats. Benefits include enhancing the immune system, raising HDL (good) cholesterol, and protecting against diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Some controversy remains on this subject in addition to misleading information in the media. However, naturally occurring saturated fats such as avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish have long been healthy parts of our ancestors’ diets as well as a staple in Mediterranean, French and other population’s diets as well.
The key point to remember about fat is to use common sense.
First, a little goes a long way. Most of us shouldn’t be eating an entire avocado or a cup full of almonds each day. Second, each one of us is different. The amount of any macronutrient our body can handle will vary from person to person. Keep a food log to see how you feel and how your body responds by first adding in small amounts of healthy fats to your diet. Third, watch the rest of what you eat. A diet with healthy fats is still relatively unhealthy if you are eating a ton of refined carbohydrates and processed foods, not managing your stress or getting insufficient sleep.
A well-balanced eating program full of good nutrients from all food groups is key to a maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you want to get more healthy fats into your diet or need a customized approach that is focuses on balance, contact me. I specialize in helping people change their habits so they can achieve their health and wellness goals. My goal is to provide personalized and individualized support and guidance where you need it most. Why not get a jumpstart on your healthy lifestyle now? Contact me today to discuss your goals and I can assist you in developing healthy habits that that will stick and change the way you feel.