Is Fat Healthy?
Our goal should be to learn about the different types of fat and what types of food they are found in.
This guide is broken down into sections on Saturated, Transfat and unsaturated fatty acids and will hopefully help you develop an understanding as to why fats are an essential part of a healthy diet.
Let’s take a closer look.
Low Fat Diets
Supermarket shelves are packed with low-fat or fat-free options, marketed as healthier alternatives for weight loss and health. While there is good reason to cut certain fats from your diet, studies show that an overall low intake of dietary fat can have adverse effects on mood.
In fact, research published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that a low-fat diet increases feelings of anger and hostility.
Plus, low-fat and fat-free products often contain a high amount of sugar. In that case, a low-fat diet then turns into a high-sugar diet—and that is really bad because it can cause weight gain and mental disorders and is linked to chronic illnesses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
So if we aren’t sure that a low-fat diet is the way to go, let’s take a look at what fat is all about so that we can hopefully make a more informed decision about what types of fat we should be eating.
There are 3 types of fat we will be looking at:
- Trans Fat
- Saturated Fat
- Unsaturated Fat
1 Trans-Unsaturated Fatty Acids (Trans Fat)
Trans fat is naturally found in small quantities in foods like meat and dairy products. However, the largest dietary source of trans fat comes in the form of partially hydrogenated oil (PHO), which is in many processed foods. PHO can be reheated without breaking down, is shelf-stable, and is less likely to go rancid than other fats, which is why it’s used by many industrial food manufacturers.
Despite this being good for packaging, innumerable studies show trans fat raises cholesterol, creates inflammation and is linked to chronic diseases, including cancer. It is so damaging to the body that last year the FDA announced its decision to ban the addition of trans fats to processed foods by 2018. Basically, trans fats are bad news. Take a look at the list below to see which trans fat-containing foods to avoid:
Sources of Trans Fat:
- Baked goods
- Biscuits, crisps, and crackers
- Processed foods
- Fried or deep fried foods
- Take away and junk food
2 Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fat is most commonly found in animal products like meat and dairy, but it’s also found in plant-based foods like coconuts and—in smaller quantities—nuts and seeds.
In the past, saturated fat was believed to be the sole cause of cardiovascular disease. However, plenty of scientific studies now question the validity of those claims. A meta-analysis published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “there is insufficient evidence from prospective epidemiologic studies to conclude that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of Coronary Heart Disease, stroke, or Cardio Vascular Disease.”
What’s more, studies show plant sources of saturated fat, such as coconut oil, can actually lower levels of bad cholesterol in the blood and have protective effects against cardiovascular disease.
Sources of Saturated Fat:
- Red meat
- Cream and cream-based dressings or dips
- Coconut oil
- Nuts and seeds
3 Unsaturated Fatty Acids
You can mostly find unsaturated fats in plant foods like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds. Unsaturated fats have two categories: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, both of which are good for health. In fact, unsaturated fats are considered the healthiest dietary fats because they lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, and have positive effects on cognitive function and behavior.
Sources of Monounsaturated Fats:
- Macadamia nuts
Polyunsaturated fats are divided into two main groups: omega 3s and omega 6s. Each help lower blood pressure and reduce the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and blood triglycerides, protecting us against heart disease. In addition, research by the Harvard School of Public Health found a high intake of omega 3s is associated with a lower risk of mortality among older adults.
Good Sources of Omega 3:
- Oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, anchovies
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
Good Sources of Omega 6:
- Olive oil
- Hempseed oil
- Wheat germ
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Raw nuts
The Omega Balance
To benefit from these healthy unsaturated fats, it’s important to get the right balance. Research shows eating too much omega 6s leads to inflammatory diseases, so you should consume about twice as much omega 6 as omega 3 (a ratio of 2:1).
Unfortunately, the modern, processed diet of high-calorie snacks provides too many Omega 6s from vegetable oils. In fact, some studies state the ratio is now closer to 20:1! Get the right balance by eating plenty of healthy sources of omega 3s and avoiding processed foods.
Potential Benefits of Fat Consumption:
As you can see, not all fat is bad fat. A huge body of evidence demonstrates unsaturated fats are beneficial for:
- Bone health
- Skin disorders
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Period pain
- Mental conditions, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression
- Certain cancers
Tips for Including Healthy Fats in Your Diet:
- Add avocado to your diet each day. Throw it into salads and smoothies, or make a tasty guacamole dip.
- Swap your store-bought salad dressing for a homemade tahini (sesame paste) sauce to liven up your lunches. Simply mix together tahini, lemon juice, and water to your desired consistency, then stir in a spice or herb of your choice.
- Snack on a handful of almonds or walnuts. Not only will they deliver a healthy dose of good fats, they’ll keep you feeling full and energized throughout the day.
We’ve long been told to fear fat, but the truth is there’s no need to be afraid! Avoiding trans fat and including plenty of healthy, unsaturated fats in your diet will improve your health and help protect you from chronic physical and mental diseases. Avocado, anyone?