Fats. It’s something most of us are afraid of. We don’t want to get fat. We’re told to not eat too much fat, so we reach for low-fat and non-fat foods instead of butter and lard.
Plus, to top it off, we know that some fats are actually bad for us. So, in this fat phobia, we boycott all of them: saturated, monounsaturated, animal fats, plant oils and hydrogenated fats.
Better safe than sorry, right? Not necessarily. Unfortunately, by not consuming certain fats in the right amount, you deprive your body of essential nutrients. So, here’s everything you need to know about fat.
Your Body and Brain Need Fat
You’ve probably heard the claim that high-fat diets are the surest way to heart disease. But there’s actually no scientific evidence that dietary saturated fats increase your risk for cardiovascular or coronary heart disease. Nor is there much proof that more dietary saturated fats lead to higher cholesterol levels.
On the contrary, trans fats are probably more detrimental to your cardiovascular system than saturated fats!
As you can see, not all fat is made equal. Not only are saturated fats okay for your heart health, but healthy fats support many other areas of your body. Some support healthy brain function. That’s because your brain and central nervous system are made up of 60 percent fat, so you need fat to keep these super important organs and systems healthy and well!
Fats are also necessary building blocks for cell membranes and hormones. And they also house fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E and K.
As you can see, it’s not all or nothing when it comes to dietary fats. Some are not only safe but necessary components of a healthy lifestyle.
Fat is a Great Source of Energy
You’re probably used to thinking that carbohydrates are the go-to source for energy. But according to Mary Enig, Ph.D., and traditional diet expert, Sally Fallon, “Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet.”
That’s why including fat into each meal will help you feel fuller and satisfied for longer. With healthy fats, you get more bang for your buck.
Now that we know just how necessary and beneficial fats are for your body, let’s take a closer look at the different types of fats. This way, you’ll know which ones to include and which ones to avoid to ensure that you’re healthy and thriving.
A Quick Introduction to Fats
There are four types of fat that you can include in your diet: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fat. They’re all different, and it’s important to eat them all in the right proportion, except for trans fat. Trans fat is something you should never consume.
In fact, trans fat is so bad that the FDA issued a ban on them in 2015, and gave manufacturers three years to eliminate them from all processed food produced in the USA. We’ll talk about trans fats in a little bit. For now, here’s a brief overview of the fat groups, and some of the food examples for each of them.
Saturated fat stays solid at room temperature. The good type of saturated fat are medium-chain fatty acids. They come from animal fats like raw dairy products, such as butter, ghee, cheese, and cream.
Other animal fats like tallow and lard are options, too. Even women’s breast milk is made up of 40 percent saturated fat. Coconut oil is an excellent plant-based saturated fat.
How much saturated fat should you eat each day? You should aim to consume 20-30 grams of medium chat saturated fats every day.
Monounsaturated fats stay liquid at room temperature. They include foods like extra virgin olive oil, avocados, almonds, peanuts, and cashews. Why is monounsaturated fat good for you? It can support mental health and help your body protect itself from some cancers and heart disease. Monounsaturated fat can even help you lose weight.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, 10 to 25 percent of your daily caloric intake should be made up of monounsaturated fats. And it’s important to remember that this type of fat only has omega-6 fatty acids, and when you consume too many omega-6 fatty acids without enough omega-3 fatty acids, you can introduce certain health problems.
These fats stay in liquid form at room temperature and they’re essential for a healthy body. They can be found in walnuts, sunflower and flax seeds, soybeans, canola oil, and fish, such as tuna, herring, trout, and salmon.
When you compare polyunsaturated fats with monounsaturated, you’ll see that they contain more anti-inflammatory properties, and they also can have a bigger impact on brain health and cognition.
Another great thing about polyunsaturated fats is that they contain both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and by consuming polyunsaturated fat, you will get the right amount of both fatty acids without putting your body at risk.
Polyunsaturated Fat Can Be Harmful Due to Free Radicals
Corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seed oil, and safflower oil are common sources of polyunsaturated fat. But because these oils can become oxidized (rancid) when they’re heated too high, they can end up containing free radicals.
What do all of these free radicals do in the body? Too much polyunsaturated oil can increase your risk for heart disease, liver damage, and complications in the reproductive organs and lungs. Digestive problems, weight gain, and developmental issues are also connected with high consumption of free radicals.
So, when you have the choice to cook with sunflower seed oil or butter, opt for butter because it won’t become oxidized the way polyunsaturated fats do when heated. Use polyunsaturated oils when you don’t need to heat them very much, or at all.
How much polyunsaturated fat should you consume? Aim for 25-35 percent of your daily calories to come from this type of fat.
Earlier, we mentioned that the FDA issued a ban on trans fats back in 2015. Why did they do that and what makes trans fats so dangerous? Hydrogen is added to vegetable oils to change their chemical structure.
So, whenever you see “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils in an ingredient list, it means that vegetable oils have been drastically changed with the addition of hydrogen.
When an oil is hydrogenated, it stays solid at room temperature and it doesn’t go bad as quickly as other oils. Trans fats may have a very long shelf life but they’re very detrimental to your health. They raise the bad cholesterol (LDL) and they also increase your chance of heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes.
Look out for trans fats in baked goods, like doughnuts, cakes, cookies, biscuits, crackers, margarine, frozen pizza, and fast food (especially when it’s fried).
And when it comes to daily recommendations for trans fats, you should just avoid them all!
Fats can be a necessary and tasty nutrient for a healthy body and mind. You can choose from both animal-based and plant-based fat sources. Remember to include them as part of a balanced diet and eat them without fear. Your body will thank you.