If you're anything like me, you spent the 90's avoiding fat like the plague— eating low-fat crackers, skim milk, fat-free salad dressings, extra lean meats...the list goes on and on! Thank goodness that the word finally got out (and the science), that despite what we have been led to believe all these years, fats are NOT the enemy! Not to mention that all those low-fat foods were chock full of sugar and promoted weight gain. Shame, shame.
The reality is that foods rich in healthy fats can actually help you to lose weight, prevent heart problems, improve cholesterol levels and help to control blood sugar. Fat is a major source of energy for us and helps to give structure to our cell membranes. However, the important caveat here is that all fats are not created equal. Let's break it down.
The four types of fats are monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, trans fats and saturated fats.
Unsaturated Fats & Omega 3s
These fats can lower your risk of heart disease and improve blood cholesterol levels [II]. Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that that has been proven to have incredible benefits for everything from arthritis to cognitive function and emotional wellbeing.
The majority of us are greatly depleted in Omega-3 since our diets are so high in Omega-6s (because of grain-fed meats and processed foods). To balance out your system with more Omega 3s, choose foods such as salmon, herring, anchovies, seaweed, and flaxseed.
Ideally, approximately two, 6 ounce servings of fatty fish each week should re-supply your Omega-3s. However, if that is not possible for you, or if you have a chronic inflammatory condition, you can consider supplementation. If you do choose to take a fish oil supplement, quality is key (pssst....please don't buy them at Costco!). Be sure that it's coming from a reputable manufacturer that has a quick "catch to capsule" time and properly stores the product away from heat and sunlight. Be sure that the label states the amount of EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid), rather than just stating a general percentage of "fish oil". These are the most beneficial components of Omega-3 fatty acids.
Sources of monounsaturated fats: nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans), avocados, olives
Sources of polyunsaturated fats: flaxseed, fatty fish, walnuts, seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame)
These are the bad guys of the bunch and take cake for everything that "fat", in general, was blamed for in years past. They will raise your cholesterol and increase your risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes [I]. While these fats can be naturally-occurring in small amounts, it's the artificial forms that cause the harm. They are created by a process called hydrogenation that transforms healthy vegetable oils into solid forms for stabilization— think margarine. Yuck!
These nasty fats hide in processed foods like pastries, cookies, pizza dough, chips, pancake mix, fried foods and so much more. What's really scary is that most restaurants also cook with these fats. Next time you are out, suggest that your food be cooked in real butter instead...and read labels!
Saturated fat has long been linked with heart disease, but that fact is that there have not been highly reliable studies to prove this. We believe that it is a Good Decision to have saturated fat in moderate amounts, from high quality sources. Choosing grass-fed, organic red meat and dairy products is always a major plus! Saturated fats are also wonderful to cook with, as they are stable at high heats.
Speaking of cooking...what oils or fats do you cook with? Heating certain oils can be dangerous to our health. Click on "Cooking with Fats" above to discover the best choices.
[I] Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., M.P.H., Martijn B. Katan, Ph.D., Alberto Ascherio, M.D., Dr.P.H., Meir J. Stampfer, M.D., Dr. P.H., and Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr. P.H. "Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease." The New England Journal of Medicine, 200; 354:1601-1613. Web. May. 2016. <http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMra054035>.
[I] Penny M. Kris-Etherton PhD RD, William S. Harris PhD, Lawrence J. Appel, MD, MPH. "Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease". American Heart Association, 2002. Web. May. 2016. <http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/106/21/2747.full>.