In the first part of this fat series, I shared my journey from Fat-phobia to Fat-philla. Now, I am going to get into the nitty-gritty about which fats are healthy and how they work in our bodies.
For years, fats had a bad rap. But now, they are back and at the forefront of the health discussion. Despite the negative press, fats have played, and continue to play, essential roles in our body. First of all, fats are a source of energy. Our bodies convert fat consumed as part of our meals, as well as stored fat, into energy so that we can go about our daily lives or train for a triathlon. Second, fat acts as an insulator and as protection for our organs. Fats are also required for the absorption of vitamins A, E, D, and K and for the utilization of calcium. Last but not least, fat is an integral part of our cell membranes. As part of the cell wall membrane, fats support the integrity of our cells and the cells’ functions as the building bloods for our skin, bones, hormones, organs, nervous system, immune system, etc. Without healthy fats in our diets, we are prone to acne, dry hair, immune dysfunctions, PMS and infertility, poor memory, low energy and cardiovascular disease, to name a few.
Not all fats are created equal!
Hydrogenated/Trans Fat – I suggest avoiding these types of fats all together. Trans fats or hydrogenated fats are like the Frankenstein of fats. They are created via a manufacturing process that adds hydrogen to vegetable oil. They were thought to be a healthy alternative to saturated fats at one time – hence the origin of margarine – in addition to serving as a preservative. However, like Frankenstein, they did not behave the way the guys who created them thought they would. Instead of being healthy, hydrogenated fats wreak havoc in our body. Eating these franken-fats raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol. The consumption of trans fats has been found to increase your risk of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Where are trans fats found:
- Packaged snack foods, cakes and cookies
- Microwave popcorn
- Deep fried and fast foods
- Processed meals and processed meats
If you eat too many trans fats, you are more likely to gain weight, feel fatigued, feel bloated, suffer with skin conditions like acne and eczema, and potentially suffer with inflammatory conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Saturated Fat –Saturated fat was once thought to be the villain of all the fats, being blamed for high cholesterol and clogged arteries. But now research is clarifying its position on this misunderstood fat. Saturated fats are stable when exposed to high heat, which means they are great for cooking. I use extra virgin coconut oil in my stir fries and curries as well as when I roast vegetables.
Sources of Saturated Fat:
- Virgin Coconut Oil
- Cheese and whole yogurt
- Animal products
Monounsaturated Fats – Monounsaturated fats are the MVP of fats with versatile uses in cooking, in dressing, or as snacks. Out of the recommended 35% of your calories from fat, the majority should come from this group of foods.
Sources of Monounsaturated Fat:
- Olives and olive oil
- Raw nuts like almonds, pecans, cashews, macadamia nuts, brazil nuts
- Raw seeds like pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds
- Nut and seed butters like almond and pumpkin
- Hummus and tahini
Monounsaturated fats aid in reducing inflammation, PMS, cardiovascular disease, depression, obesity and dementia. Since these foods are also high in Vitamin E, they also keep skin and hair healthy and boost the immune system.
The Omegas - With the Omegas, the key is to focus on the ration. Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed in a ratio ranging from 4 to 1 and 1 to 1. Unfortunately, in our modern diets, the ratio is typically more like 16 to 1, Omega-6 to Omega-3. This excess consumption of Omega-6 can result in inflammatory conditions, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune conditions. When you are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids, you are likely to suffer with dry skin, depression, poor memory, immune conditions, blood sugar irregularities, menstrual cramps, and increased risk of arthritis, heart disease, and cancer.
Sources of Omega-3 fatty acids to increase:
- Oily fish like wild salmon, mackerel, trout, sardine
- Eggs (depending on the chickens’ feed)
Sources of Omega-6 to reduce:
- Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil
- Peanuts and peanut oil
- Sunflower seeds and sunflower oil
- Palm oil
With all of this information at hand, I’m not encouraging the pendulum to swing from fat free to Paula Dean style cooking. To take advantage of the health benefits of fats, the key is to diversify and moderate the foods that you eat. Cook with different types of fats like butter, coconut oil and olive oil. Think about having more raw nuts as snacks, or use nut butters as spreads or in sauces. Enjoy avocado as a spread on sandwiches or have it cut into salads. Have eggs a couple of times a week.
Experiment, find the middle ground, and enjoy diversity in your diet.
American Heart Association, 2015. Trans Fats. Available at: www.heart.org
Fallon, S. and Enig, M, 2000. The Skinny on Fats . The Weston Price Foundation, Available at: www.westonaprice.org
Simopoulos, A.P., 2002. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-4 essential fatty acids. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy, 56(8), pp 365-79
Siri-Tarino, PW, Sun Q., Hu, FB., Krauss, R.M, 2010. Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(3), pp 535-46.
University of Maryland. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Available at: www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids