The presence of fat in the diet is essential. Dietary fats are necessary for many processes in the healthy human body including: hormone production, neurological development and maintenance, nutrient absorption and immune function. Without adequate fat in the diet we would wither and die.
However, all fats are not the same. Certain types of fat can be destructive to your health, while others will help maintain a healthy, vital body and mind. The key is to figure out which fats are which. The following list will demystify fat and help you choose what’s best.
This list is short but these fats are found everywhere. If you are eating processed or fast food, chances are you are getting them in unhealthy amounts.
- Trans Fats – Also known as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats, trans fats are synthetic fats which can create serious health risks. Trans fats raise the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the levels of the good (HDL). They increase blood triglycerides and promote systemic inflammation. Trans fats in the diet increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and strokes. The National Academy of Sciences has ruled that the only safe level of trans fats in the diet is zero. Trans fats are found in: margarine, fried foods, doughnuts, cookies, pastries and crackers – or anything that lists hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil on the label. Caution: The FDA allows food manufacturers to put “trans fat free” on the package if the food contains no more than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. Read the label – expose the lie.
- Refined Polyunsaturated Fats – These Omega 6 fats (PUFAs) come from vegetable oils that have been highly processed and are very commonly used in the American diet. When eaten in excess they can promote a general state of inflammation in the body. Studies show that a high ratio of Omega 6 fats to Omega 3s in the blood increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer. These fats are found in: soybean, canola, safflower, cottonseed, sunflower and corn oils.
- Saturated Fats – These have long been the “red headed stepchild” of the American Heart Association and the USDA. Accused of being the main cause of high blood cholesterol, people have been warned off consuming these fats for decades. Despite this institutional bias (which was based on flawed research), more and more experts have come to realize the value of saturated fats in the diet. They play a vital role in immunity, neurological function, energy production, cellular function, hormone production and a variety of other metabolic functions. Moreover, these fats are vital for absorption, storage and delivery of A, D and K2 vitamins. The irony of the “war” on saturated fats is that they actually suppress inflammation in the body rather than trigger it, as is the case with the aforementioned darlings of the USDA PUFA’s. Saturated fats are found in whole milk, butter and other full-fat dairy products, eggs, meats. Those who choose not to consume animal products can obtain these saturated fats from tropical oils such as coconut (one of my favorite oils for baking) – really good stuff.
- Monounsaturated Fats – No controversy here. These fats, found in olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocados are the primary fats consumed in the Mediterranean diet. They reduce LDL cholesterol levels in your blood and increase the HDL levels, thereby reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. They are rich in Vitamin E, which is an essential nutrient that is often lacking in the American diet.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These essential fatty acids are perhaps the most important to consume but may be the most difficult to get in sufficient quantity. The plant source (flaxseeds) of these oils must undergo conversion in the human body to eicosapentanoic acid (EPA): the most valuable form of omega 3. The problem there is that only a small amount of the flaxseed oil ingested gets converted to EPA. The animal form is found in cold water fish like salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel and lake trout. For the larger fish sources it is best to eat the wild caught fish as they are likely to have less environmental contaminants like mercury, PCBs and dioxins. Of course, the wild fish are significantly more expensive than their farm-raised cousins.
While it is best to try to get your omega 3s from these food sources, it is often difficult to do so for economic or availability reasons. Because omega 3 fatty acids are so valuable to your health (they are anti-inflammatory, promote cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of terrible diseases like Alzheimer’s, some cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.) it is essential to have adequate amounts of these fats in your daily diet. To that end, most experts recommend supplementing the diet with a well designed, high quality essential fatty acid complex like Super Omega-3 Fish Oil.
In my experience, it is difficult to get enough of all the healthy fats we need through diet alone. Likewise it is near impossible to completely avoid the dietary fats that cause inflammation and degenerative disease. My recommendation is to do your best to put the right foods in your body and use high quality nutritional supplements to help counteract the effect of the bad stuff that occasionally and inevitably gets in.