Healthy Fats are the Key
The importance of healthy fats in the diet is under appreciated. Fats do many healthy things. They are a structural component to every cell wall in the body. And, most of the brain is comprised of fats. Fats are needed to make our sex hormones, provide a sense of fullness, or satiety from eating (otherwise we would overeat), transport nutrients throughout the body, and protect and insulate our internal organs.
But, just like carbohydrates some fats are healthier than others. Healthy fats are found fish, nuts, olives, and even animal proteins. These are all natural foods. Fats found in processed foods are not healthy. Healthy fats include monousatutated fats and the omega-3 fatty acids which are a type of polyunsaturated fat.
- Frequently consume omega-3 fatty acids found in “Wild” and “Alaskan” fish, sardines, tuna, seeds, nuts, and flaxseed.
- Frequently consume omega-9 fatty acids found in olive oil, avocado, canola oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, and safflower oil, and mayonnaise (canola or olive oil based).
- Limit consumption of saturated fats found in full-fat dairy products and heavily marbled and/or untrimmed cuts of animal meat.
- AVOID trans fats and hydrogenated oils found in fried foods, margarine, palm oil, shortening, baked goods, and chips.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in butter, cheese, cream, and meat products as well as tropical oils.
While saturated fats increase LDL or bad cholesterol much of that increase is in the large fluffy LDL particles, which are not thought to contribute atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries leading heart disease, but are associated with insulin resistance, colon cancer and suppress the immune system in association with high glycemic diets. In fact, saturated fats are really only a problem in the context of a high glycemic diet. There’s no reason to fear eating them. But, like most things don’t over do it.
Trans Fats and Hydrogenated Fats
These are the unhealthiest of the fats. They make the cell membranes stiff and interfere with hormone-receptor function. These fats are liquids at room temperature and have been artificially saturated with hydrogen atoms increasing the shelf life of these fats and making them more stable at higher temperatures. Margarine and vegetable shortening are examples of these fats, which are used extensively in commercially prepared foods including peanut butter, mayonnaise, baked goods, chocolate, and margarines. These are all sources of hidden fat.
Trans fats raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol. Trans fats are linked to heart disease. These fats get incorporated into our cell walls making them less flexible and blocking biochemical pathways including hormone-receptor activity.
Monounsaturated fats are usually liquid and room temperature and are among the healthier fats. They are found in olive oil, peanut oil, avocado oil, and canola oil. Long-term consumption of monounsaturated fats is associated with lower mortality rates and lower incidence of heart disease.
Olive oil is a good alternative to butter or margarine. Avocado oil is very expensive. Of the monounsaturated fats olive is the overall best choice.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs)
Polyunsaturated fats are free of cholesterol and low in saturated fat, but they are unstable and subject to oxidation. They can turn rancid outside the body, and generate harmful free radicals inside the body that leads to accelerated aging and contributes to chronic disease.
Safflower, sunflower, sesame, and soy oils are examples of PUFAs. There are two classes of PUFAs – one healthy and the other unhealthy.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: these are healthy fats
- improve immune function
- protect against heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, cancer, diabetes
- possess anti-inflammatory properties
- Omega-6 fatty acids
- can suppress immune function
- are pro-inflammatory
The body cannot make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We can only get them through the diet. The diet should incorporate more omega-3 and than omega-6 fatty acids.
There are 3 main types of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
ALA can be converted into to EPA and DHA. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fish oil, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, hemp oil, and purslane.
There are 4 main types of omega-6 fatty acids.
- Linoleic acid (LA)
- Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA)
- Dihomogammalinolenic acid (DHGLA)
- Arachidonic acid (AA)
GLA has health benefits and is found in borage oil, primrose oil, and black currant seed oil. So not all omega-6 fatty acids are unhealthy. LA is the predominant PUFA in the American diet and is found in corn, safflower, and soy oils and is a precursor to AA, which is very inflammatory. AA is also found in high concentrations in red meat.
Fat is not fatal. But you need the right types of fats – the healthy fats – in your diet.