- HEALTHY FATS
- HOW TO MAKE FATS A HEALTHY PART OF YOUR DIET
- WHY IS FAT AN ESSENTIAL PART OF OUR DIET?
- WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TYPES OF DIETARY FATS?
- HOW DO DIFFERENT FATS AFFECT OUR LONG TERM HEALTH?
- HOW TO CHOOSE HEALTHY SOURCES OF FAT
WHAT ARE TYPES OF FAT – Fat is commonly misunderstood. In the 1940s, research linking high-fat diets with high cholesterol levels suggested that lowering fat consumption would reduce the risk of heart disease. Over time, this idea expanded into the mainstream with the basic message “fat is bad.” Food industries capitalized on this message by creating low-fat snacks and meals and touting their health benefits.
However, food is far more complex than a single nutrient and, it turns out, replacing fat with sugar is not necessarily healthy. While our understanding of the many types of fat and their effects on our bodies is still evolving, we do know that fat is an essential, and often healthy, part of any diet.
What is fat and why do we need it?
Each type of fat is composed of different combinations of fatty acids that determine how they are used in the body. These uses include absorption of vitamins, brain function, wound healing, protection of vital organs, and energy.[1,2] Our body is able to produce many of the fats needed for daily function, but certain fatty acids, referred to as essential fatty acids, need to be consumed in our diet. Dietary fat is typically divided into saturated and unsaturated fat, depending on the structure of the fat compound. Understanding the difference between the types of fat and their effects can help guide healthy dietary choices.
Unsaturated fats – WHAT ARE TYPES OF FAT
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and are further divided into mono- and polyunsaturated fat. They are typically from plant sources and, in addition to the functions listed above, may help to lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which should ideally be consumed in equal amounts. Some of these fatty acids either cannot be produced by the body (essential fatty acid) or are produced in very small amounts (conditionally essential), making polyunsaturated fats an especially important part of a healthy diet. Overall, unsaturated fats have numerous health benefits and relatively few downsides when eaten in moderation.[2,3] For this reason, they are considered to be “healthy fats,” especially when they are consumed in place of saturated fats.
Saturated fats – WHAT ARE TYPES OF FAT
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and typically come from animal sources. Research has been mixed on the effect dietary saturated fat has on long term health outcomes. Saturated fat can raise blood cholesterol levels (especially “bad” LDL cholesterol) and potentially increase cardiovascular disease risk.[4,5] But things get more complicated when we consider the various types of saturated fats, the foods they are in, and what we might eat in their place. Saturated fats are commonly found in baked goods, processed meats, and other foods that contain high levels of sugar and sodium. Replacing dietary saturated fats with unsaturated fats has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events later in life. But it is also likely that replacing the saturated fats from baked goods and processed meats with saturated fat from fresh meat and dairy will be healthier long term.
Trans fats – WHAT ARE TYPES OF FAT
Trans fats are primarily artificially produced fats that are common in highly processed foods. There is strong evidence for the unhealthy effects of trans fats, leading them to be banned by the US FDA in 2015. Due to a lengthy transitional period in food production, they should be completely removed from the food marketplace by 2021.
Cholesterol- WHAT ARE TYPES OF FAT
Cholesterol is often found in fatty foods and is also essential for the normal function of our body. Most of the cholesterol we need in a given day is made by our liver. When we consume cholesterol in our diet, the liver typically decreases the amount it produces so our blood cholesterol levels stay the same. However, some people are considered “hyper-responders” because they do show an increase in blood cholesterol in response to dietary cholesterol. Research is inconclusive on whether these people have increased risk of heart disease with high cholesterol diets, so it is best to limit intake if you have high cholesterol. For most people, however, eating saturated fat is more likely to increase blood cholesterol levels.
So is fat good or bad?
Good question. Fat is a necessary part of our diet, and there are many factors that determine how the fat we consume affects our health. One gram of fat contains nine calories (one gram of protein or carbohydrates contains four calories), so those looking to manage their weight should consume all fat in moderation. Unsaturated fats contain all the essential fatty acids and are associated with the greatest health benefits, so a majority of dietary fat should come from foods like avocado, nuts, fish, olives, oils, etc. Minimize saturated fat consumption and choose less processed sources like fresh cuts of meat, milk, and coconut, rather than pastries, ice cream, and pepperoni. Follow these guidelines and you can enjoy your food without making fat a bad word.
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