Fat-free, no-fat, low-fat, non-fat were familiar buzz words in the 1990s. Fat, which was named the villain in the early 1900s, was not yet distinguished as healthy fats vs harmful fats.
Before my husband and I married in 1999, he asked me to switch from the “fake butter in a tub” to real butter, stating, “we needed healthy fat in our diets.” Gasp! “You want me to what?” I asked him. “You want me to eat fat so I can be fat??????”
The general premise used to be eating fat lead to weight gain and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. Medical practitioners endorsed the low-fat diet. For food producers, the answer was simple, subtract fat and add sugar. With an abundance of fat-free snacks and sweets available, we the people, were eating ourselves straight into the arms of obesity.
Hundreds of scientific studies have now proven different fats affect the body in different ways. For healthy living, we must not eliminate all fats. Let’s take a minute or two and talk about these fats, what they are and why we need them.
What are Polyunsaturated & Mono-saturated Fats?
The majority of your fat intake should be sourced from polyunsaturated and mono-saturated fatty acids. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are two types of essential fatty acids (EFAs) in polyunsaturated fats. Our bodies need both EFAs in order to function properly, yet we cannot produce them. The typical Western diet contains plenty of Omega-6 and very few Omega-3 foods.
Polyunsaturated fats, found in corn oil and meats contain arachidonic acid. This inflammatory substance is a component of Omega-6 fatty acids and has been connected with asthmatic reactions, as well as joint damage from arthritis.
Rich sources of Omega-3s are fish and flaxseed oil. For optimal healthy living and disease prevention, these should be your fats of choice. Fish fats in particular decrease the risk of heart disease. Eating liberal amounts of fish will raise the HDL levels (good cholesterol), thin the blood to decrease clotting and lower triglyceride levels. Salt water fish, such as salmon, herring and sardines, contain higher amounts of Omega-3s than freshwater fish. They are also less likely to be contaminated.
Mono-unsaturated Fats (MUFAs) such as olive, avocado and almond oil as well as nuts are good fats. Research supports that these fats can help decrease your risk of stroke and/or cardiovascular disease by reducing the LDL (bad) cholesterol levels.
What are Trans-Fats?
Processed foods contain hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, aka, trans-fats. However, minimal trans-fats occur naturally in some beef, lamb and dairy products. Research is lacking in areas of natural trans-fats, so that whether they cause harmful effects to our cholesterol levels is unknown.
Studies do support dangers of consuming artificial trans-fats. These fats escalate the risk of stroke, heart disease and are linked with a greater risk for diabetes, type 2.
These artificial fats are produced through chemical processing, which “purifies” food by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils. Extremely high temperatures, that are necessary to process foods, destroy and/or damage nutrients, including Omega-3s.
What are Saturated Fats?
The great controversy regarding saturated fats remains very much alive. Earlier studies supported that saturated fats play a role in augmenting prostate and colon cancer risk, and heighten levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol which builds up plaque in the artery walls. This can generate inflammation that lead to a stroke and/or heart attack.
Up-to-date studies are not finding a connection between saturated fats and heart disease. In 2011, a study conducted by the Cochrane Collaboration, determined that decreasing saturated fats does not contribute in one way or another to deaths caused by heart disease. Furthermore, researchers have found that substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats lowered the risk of stroke and/or heart attack by 14%.
Saturated fats typically remain a solid at room temperature.
Examples of Healthy Fats
The golden rule of shopping, that I personally live by and promote, is to shop the store perimeters. The good stuff for your body, like fresh produce, meat and fish, are housed around the store’s borders. Stay true to your shopping list and avoid the temptation to load up on junk food. Become addicted to reading food labels. Stay away from those products containing palm oils and/or partially hydrogenated oils.
Healthy fats are found in:
- Nuts: walnuts, almonds, Macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pecans. Be sure to read the labels and make sure they do not have unhealthy oils added to them.
- Oils: olive, coconut and avocado. Make sure they are unrefined and cold-pressed.
- Fish: salmon, tuna, trout
- Fruits: avocados
- Dairy: eggs, whole milk, yogurt, and cheeses.
Examples of Bad Fats
Bad fats, aka, hydrogenated oils that remain solid at room temperature. Read food labels and avoid commercially made products containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.
Here are just a few examples of foods containing bad fats:
- Fried foods
- Packaged sweets: such as cakes, dough nuts, cookies
What Happens When We Eat Bad Fats?
Trans-fats have been linked to an increase risk in cardiovascular disease. Animal studies have shown trans-fats promote obesity and insulin resistance, which is a precursor to Type-2 Diabetes.
Why Do Our Bodies Need Good Fats?
Good fats are an effective source of energy. They help our bodies absorb fat-soluble vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, and serve as insulation to regulate our bodies’ temperature. We need protective fat to safeguard certain vital organs, such as the heart and kidneys. Fat is essential for cognitive and hormonal health. Our brains need fat and our hormones depend on it. Over half of the brain is made up of fatty tissue. We need these fats to properly grow and insulate our brain. Animal fats support brain function in a way that mostly unsaturated plant fats cannot.
Did you know that over 50 percent of the calories in human breast milk come from fat? Yep, and most of the fat is saturated. Children especially need to have saturated fats to develop properly. They need more fats than adults do because they literally burn through them faster than adults.
Back to my eating fat journey, when I met my husband, everything I ate was non-fat. Non-fat milk, non-fat snacks, those rice cakes that tasted like Styrofoam. I was thin but I was not healthy. I literally had to eat every three hours. If I did not, my blood sugar would drop and I would feel faint or pass out. My heart would race and I would think I was having a heart attack. I had adult acne.
When I added fat into my diet: eggs, coconut oil, avocado oil and butter, my need to eat every few hours went away. My complexion smoothed out. Yes, I put on weight but instead of looking emaciated I now looked healthy. My hair was shiny and did not fall out when I ran my fingers through it. I had more energy.
You know, mainstream medicine and government agencies continue to recommend low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. Recent research no longer supports the hypothesis that all fats are bad. I am a living testimony of what a high fat diet can do for a person. Combined with a high fat, gluten-free diet, I have never felt healthier or looked better.
Avocados are a great way to put healthy fat into your diet. Homemade guacamole is one of my favorite party dips.