It’s really pretty unfortunate that a description for an overweight person (“fat”) is the same word as a nutrient we need for good health, isn’t it? I think it causes a lot of confusion for people – it used to for me!
Remember that whole “low-fat/fat-free” phase we went through in the 90s? I guess it’s still lingering today, but everything from peanut butter to milk got its natural fat replaced with sugar, salt, or something else. Around the same time as the fat-free craze occurred, our country’s obesity rates skyrocketed. I don’t think those two are directly tied together, but I do think the low-fat diet push only made things worse.
Fats have received a long bout of negative press, but as we now know, there really is value in the consumption of healthy fats. There’s a difference though – not all fats are created equal!
Today I’m discussing these 4 kinds of fat:
trans fats, saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and monounsaturated fats.
At all costs, stay away from trans fat. It causes plaque buildup in the arteries, which significantly increases risk of heart disease and stroke. Many studies also show that trans fat increases risk for depression and certain cancers.
Trans Fat can be found in:
- fried foods – french fries, chicken nuggets, donuts, fried meats (many things from fast food restaurants) – basically whatever is fried in hydrogenated oils *many restaurants are catching on to this and are reducing the amount of trans fats in their products, but even a tiny bit (as stated below) wreaks havoc on your health
- solid fats – stick margarine, vegetable shortenings
- many commercial baked goods – muffins, cookies, crackers, cakes, pizza dough, pie crusts, ready-made frosting
- some snack foods – candy, microwaved popcorn bags, some tortilla chips
- and even some peanut butters
Be on the lookout for the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oil” and avoid it! <–the FDA allows the label “trans-fat free” if there’s less than 1g of trans fat per serving in a product, but even half a gram of trans fat can leave your heart with a significantly increased risk of problems.
Saturated fats have health benefits, in moderation.
This isn’t a type of fat you necessarily want to consume in excess (overdoing it increases risk of heart disease), but it’s one to make a regular part of your diet. Some people do well eating most of these foods listed below daily, some people don’t – meaning that some have an intolerance to dairy or ethical/environmental reasons not to eat animal products – you have to find what is best for you.
Saturated fats include:
- extra virgin coconut oil
- palm oil (though there’s controversy surrounding this one, so please do your research before deciding if its best for you – I personally don’t seek it out but don’t worry about eating a bit of it)
- organic butter
- organic grass-fed chicken
- organic eggs
- organic whole-fat dairy products
- organic high-fat cuts of meat – beef, lamb, pork
Monounsaturated Fats are generally considered heart-healthy and can be consumed daily.
These fats raise good HDL and lower LDL cholesterol levels. They aid in healthy digestion, weightloss, and weight management.
Monounsatuarated Fats include:
- olives and extra virgin olive oil
- sesame seed oil
- nuts and seeds: walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pecans, pumpkin seeds (pepitas), macadamia nuts, tahini, sesame seeds
- nut and seed butters, made from any of the nuts/seeds listed above (be sure to read the ingredients – the list should only include the nut or seed and maybe salt)
- fish, particularly halibut, sablefish, and mackerel
Polyunsaturated Fats are similar to monounsaturated fats in that they’re considered heart-healthy and regular consumption is encouraged. Polyunsaturated Fats contain healthy omega fats.
These fats raise good HDL and lower LDL cholesterol, plus are considered anti-inflammatory (due to the omega fats) which are associated with lower risk of many diseases/illnesses and prevention of early death.
Polyunsatuarated Fats include:
- flaxseeds and flaxseed oil
- chia seeds
- hemp seeds
- sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds
- some leafy green vegetables
- fish, particularly salmon, trout, tuna, mackeral, herring, sardines, tilapia
When someone refers to “healthy fats,” they’re talking about these last three groups – polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated.
While healthy fats vital for a healthy life, remember that, like anything, too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. It’s often recommended that 20-35% of an adult’s daily diet is healthy fats. Use your common sense and eat the amount your body thrives off of!
Healthy Fats are essential for:
immune system function
proper nerve activity
the healthy regeneration and growth of cells
optimal brain function
healthy weight management
reduct inflammation (relieve joint pain and reduce symptoms of arthritis, lupus, etc.)
lower risk of cancers, especially breast and prostate cancer
help protect against mental illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s and depression
aid in natural fertility
boost your mood
produce natural energy
And there you have it! If you stuck it out to the end, bravo, friend! That was a lot of information. But I hope this helps clear up any confusion about fats, and encourages you to make healthy fats a priority in your diet!
What are your favorite healthy fats?
What advice do you have for someone who wants to include more healthy fats into their diet?