Fats have been widely demonized in the health industry. “Fat makes you fat” is a common belief for many people, though that is truly not the case. Fats are essential for our overall health. They are burned as fuel for our body and are an integral part of our cell membranes. They maintain healthy skin and hair, and can even affect brain functioning in our mood, behavior, and cognition. Given that some fats are absolutely necessary to eat because they cannot be manufactured in the body, this week’s blog post is all about which fats we should be eating to help us thrive.
To Be or Not to Be Saturated
For a long time, consuming saturated fats took the blame for causing some heart disease. However, recent studies have shown that this is not the case. Instead, it was found that the source of the saturated fats consumed was what made the difference. Saturated fats from cheese, butter, and beef fat are fat sources that you should try to avoid eating too much of. These saturated fats actually do increase inflammatory compounds and can lead to heart disease. However, certain saturated fats can actually have some health benefits from sources such as coconut, chocolate, nuts, and seeds. Additionally, other sources of fats such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and many nut and seeds contain monounsaturated fats. These can help reduce “bad” cholesterol level and provide nutrients like Vitamin E, an important antioxidant. If you have high cholesterol it’s important to not overdo it – working with a practitioner who is knowledgeable about functional nutrition and using food as medicine can be helpful!
Get the Good Omega 3s
It is very common for people to have a deficiency in Omega-3 fatty acids though they are one of the most important essential fatty acids for our health. Well-known sources of Omega-3s include fish oil, specifically salmon, herring, anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and krill. These are the highest sources of the anti-inflammatory omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). For vegetarians and vegans, algae-based supplements can be the best way to go for these two fatty acids, although plant-based sources provide lesser amounts of Omega-3s. Nuts and seeds like flax, chia, walnuts, and Brazil nuts as some vegetables, can provide the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA can be converted in the body to EPA and DHA, although the amount converted is quite low and people can have genetic differences that make their conversions even more inefficient. ALA is also found in some vegetables such as winter squash, leafy greens, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and beans.
Watch Out for Trans Fats
Trans fats are the kind of fat that you actually do want to avoid. These are found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fats are processed in order to make them solid at room temperature; however, our bodies don’t know and can’t use these fats as fuel. They raise your “bad” cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL), and lower your “good” cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL). This effect can increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Trans fats can also occur in natural sources including some meat and dairy products like beef, lamb, and butterfat.
Healthy Fats for a Healthy Life
It’s important to get your healthy fats from a variety of sources such as avocado, olive, coconut, nuts, and seeds. If your diet allows, try to consume fatty fish such as wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, herring, flounder, or sole. Omega-3 rich eggs, small amounts of grass-fed beef or full-fat dairy from grass-fed cows are also other options. If you’re vegan, you should consider taking a plant-based EPA and DHA supplement from algae to be sure that you are consuming the full range of omega-3 fatty acids. One thing to note as well is to be cautious of where your fat sources are coming from. Make sure that the oils, nuts, and seeds you consume are not rancid, as this could potentially cause oxidative damage within your body. Additionally, if consuming fish or animals, choose organic and less polluted sources.
It’s time to shift our opinion of fats from something to be avoided to something that may be essential for our health and well-being. In fact, many people are now finding that they are actually losing weight by eating more of the healthy fats in their diet. So forks up, and make sure that you are supplying your body with everything that it needs to be on your A game.