Fat is good

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It is not secret around here that I am a huge nut butter fan.  Addict even.  Weekly my kids and I make homemade nut butters.  Peanut butter, almond butter (a chocolate coconut by my gal, Emma, over at Better With Cake is my all-time favorite!).  I am big fan of other fats too.  Avocados. Eggs. Coconut. Lard (Yes lard! Have you ever had potatoes roasted in duck fat? No? you haven’t lived till you have roasted potatoes in lard!)

Fats are good for you. Great even. Fats have gotten bit a bad rap.  Yes, there can be too much of a good thing (that applies to most things in life!) and some fats are better than others. Fats support your metabolism, hormone production, immunity and the absorption of other nutrients. Our brains, nervous system and cell membranes are all made up of fat.  In fact, our brain is actually 60% fat!

More important than your total intake of fats is the balance between the different types of fats, like polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated fats.  In today’s average diet, it is easy for our fats to be out of balance. Typical diets tend to be very high in saturated and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats and low in monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fat.

The Different Types of Fats

Monounsaturated

Monounsaturated fats are found in macadamias, pecans, almonds, cashews, pistachios, sesame seeds olives, olive oil, pumpkin seeds and avocados.

Polyunsaturated

Polyunsaturated fats are found in fish oil, hemp seeds, algae oils, safflower oil, peanuts, canola, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds.  There are 2 main types of polyunsaturated, omega-3 and omega-6.  Both are essential fatty acids, meaning our bodies cannot produce them. Generally, we get plenty of omega-6 in our diets but are lacking in Omega-3.  Omega-3s can be found in fish and algae oils and plant based sources like flax, hemp and chia. We typically cannot get all the benefits from the plant sources, so it is best to get it from marine sources. Typical diets tend to be very low in omega-3s, hence why hear a lot about supplementing with fish oil.  I am not a huge advocate for supplements, EXCEPT when it comes to fish oil.

Saturated

Even Saturated fats are not completely bad.  However, in the typical American diet (a diet high in processed foods and animal fat) we tend to get too much saturated fat in relation to the other fats. Saturated fat is found in animal fats (butter, meat) and tropical oils (coconut). We can make these fats healthier by choosing pasture raised meats, dairy and eggs. Newer research shows that saturated fat alone is not bad for our health, but it is when diets high in fat are combined with diets high in refined carbohydrates that there are problems.  [1] [2]

The only truly ugly fat, trans-fat

Trans-fat is found in margarine, fast foods, coffee creamers, microwave popcorn, frozen pizza and commercially baked goods.  Trans fat is made when a liquid fat is turned into a solid.  Like with margarine. These fats can raise our LDL (bad cholesterol) while lowering the HDL (good cholesterol), increase inflammation, contribute to insulin resistance. Research for the Harvard School of Health found that for “every 2% of calories from trans fats, their risk of heart disease rises by 23%” [3]

The great news is, we are aware of how bad trans fats are and they are being phased out of most of our foods.  However, until they are gone, we still need to keep an eye out for them.  The nutrition label may not state if a product contains trans-fat if it has less then 0.5 grams per serving, so look for the phrase “partially hydrogenated” on the ingredient list.

So what a guy or gal to do?

Don’t over think it. Remember keep it simple. Work on getting a balance of each type of fat.  Include nuts, seeds, fatty fish and pasture raised meats and eggs in your diet.  Avoid the processed fats typically found in fried foods, snack foods, chips etc.   Take a fish or algae oil supplement. Optimally you would want 1/3 of fat intake to come from each category saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (with most of that coming from omega 3s).  Right now there is a study for and against every type of fat.  Until more research is done, there is no need to avoid any one type (except for trans-fat) and just work on getting a balance of the different types.

References:

[1]Volek J., Forsythe C. The case for not restricting saturated fat on a low carbohydrate diet. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2005; 2: 21. Published online 2005 Aug 31.

[2]Siri-Torino P, Sun Q,  Hu F, and Krauss R. Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Mar; 91(3): 502–509.

[3]Mozaffarian D, Katan MB, Ascherio A, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC. Trans fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. N Engl J Med. 2006 Apr 13;354(15):1601-13.

 

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