Over the past 20 plus years, there has been a huge push for low fat/”fat free” food. Did you know that during that time, the obesity rates in America have doubled? In the 1960s, Americans typically consumed 45% of their calories in fat and at that time only 13% were obese. Today fat consumption is about 33% of the calories yet 35% are obese! Curious indeed.
Let’s talk a bit about fats. There are basically four types of fats. However, when it comes to health, all fats are not created equal. Here’s a brief summary (including some chemistry that can be completed ignored, if you like). There’s lots of lots of info here – feel free to scroll directly down to the Bottom Line for the “Cliff Notes” summary.
Saturated fats refer to fats in which all carbon atoms are bonded to hydrogen atoms (as opposed to having a double-bond connection to another carbon atom). What really matters is that saturated fats is that they are usually solid at room temperature and have a high melting point.
They are found in animal products including red meat and whole milk dairy products. Other sources are tropical vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and foods made with these oils. Poultry and fish also contain saturated fat, but less than red meat.
Saturated fats raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease and are really not needed in our diet since our bodies can produce all the saturated fat that we need when we consume enough of the good fats.
So then if a saturated fat is holding as many hydrogen atoms as possible, what is a monounsaturated fat? These molecules have “double bonds in them with two carbon atoms that could each hold one more hydrogen atom if the double-bond were broken. So they can accept more hydrogen atoms at a single point, making them mono-unsaturated. They are liquid at room temperature and turn cloudy when kept in refrigerator.
Monounsaturated fats are found in plant oils like olive oil. Other good sources are avocados; nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans; and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame.
A polyunsaturated fat has at least two double-bonds between carbon atoms and potentially more than could accept hydrogen atoms. The most commonly known polyunsaturated fats today are the omega-3s and omega-6s. The 3 and 6 refer to a specific location of the first double-bond (but that is really not important). They are liquid at room temperatures as well as at cold temperatures
The primary sources of polyunsaturated fats are sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, and also foods such as walnuts, flax seeds, and fish. This type of fat also includes the Omega-3 group of fatty acids, which are anti-inflammatory and your body can’t make. In addition, Omega-3 fats are found in very few foods so we need them in our diets.
Trans Fat (also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils)
This is vegetable oil that is processed by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil, which is very good for food manufacturers – and very bad for you.. Some examples of foods high in trans fats are: cookies, crackers, cakes, french fries, fried onion rings, and donuts. You probably already know these are very bad for you and should be avoided as much as possible.
The two bad types of fat are saturated fat and trans fat. To make it easier to know which fats are bad, just remember that for the most part, the fats that are solid when at room temperature like butter and lard, should be avoided. A notable exception might be coconut oil is about 50 percent lauric acid, a rare medium-chain fatty acid found in mother’s milk that supports healthy metabolism and is now being studied for its anti-fungal, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial health-protecting properties.
The best types of fats are monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fat comes from foods such as avocados, olives, whole milk products, some types of nuts, and olive oil. Polyunsaturated fats come from foods like wild salmon, sardines and some types of seeds. These two types of good fat can do things like raise HDL “good” cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol. They help fight against heart disease, and some studies even show they can help fight cancer.
You really do need some fat in your diet. It is fine to use a little GOOD OIL on your veggies and on salads as your dressing. You can also snack on things like a small handful of unsalted nuts and to add some sliced avocados on your sandwiches and wraps. Nut butters are good far but a very concentrated. So do enjoy them and be very careful to use them sparingly (they are great with celery or apples).
You do need to be mindful of the amount of fat you eat. A little goes a long way. Choose healthy fats in moderation in conjunction with a healthy eating plan, and you can enjoy the rewards of a healthy body! Our bodies NEED some fats – particularly Omega 3 Fatty Acids (the kinds from salmon, krill, flaxseeds, chia seeds, etc). They great for your heart and arteries, they help keep inflammation in check.
A little fat makes your food tastier and can help you feel satisfied – helping to prevent overeating. In summary:
- Avoid vegetable oils such as corn or safflower oil. Choose olive oil or flax oil and use them in small amounts.
- Reduce your consumption of meats and dairy products. Keep portions of these small and replace them with fish or nuts several times a week.
- Increase your consumption of omega-3 rich foods such as wild-caught cold-water fish like salmon, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.
It is important to enjoy what you eat! Don’t be afraid of including some fat – just choose wisely.