You have heard for years about the health hazards of high fat diets. What you may not know is that fats, the right kinds in the right amounts, are necessary for good health. Fats, or fatty acids, are your body’s energy storage molecules but they play other critical rolls as well. Fatty acids are essential for cell membranes, some hormones, immunity and blood clotting. Your choice of fat can have a profound effect on your health.
Essential fatty acids
There are two fatty acids that are essential nutrients, meaning your body does not produce them in sufficient quantities. They are alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid. ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid and linoleic acid is an omega-6 fatty acid.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Eating more omega-3s is protective against heart disease, strokes and other degenerative diseases. In other words, eat more fish or take omega-3 supplements. Fish oils contain EPA and DHA, which are more active, forms of omega-3 fatty acids than ALA from plants.
Monounsaturated fatty acids
Another important type of beneficial fat is monounsaturated fat, which helps reduce levels of LDLs (“bad” cholesterol) without lowering HDLs (“good” cholesterol). Polyunsaturated fats lower both and they are inflammatory.
Saturated fats and trans fat
Limit your intake of most saturated fat and avoid all trans fat. Trans fats are products of hydrogenation of polyunsaturated fatty acids. They are in margarines and processed foods such as chips, crackers and some buttered popcorn. Trans fat is listed on food labels, but zero can simply mean there is less than half a gram of trans fat per serving. They are more harmful than saturated fat.
These fatty foods contain healthy fats
- Olives, olive oil and canola oil are good source of monounsaturated fatty acids.
- Avocados are also great sources of monounsaturated fatty acids.
- Fatty fish including salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, are high in omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
- Nuts are good sources of unsaturated fats with a healthy balance of omega-6 fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Walnuts are particularly good source of omega 3 fats and almonds are a good source of monounsaturated fats.
- Flax seed and flax seed oils are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Grass fed beef and bison contain more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) and omega 3 fatty acids than feedlot beef. CLA has anti-carcinogenic effects and may promote maintenance of muscle mass.
- MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride oil), found in coconut oil, has been shown to aid in weight loss and improves insulin resistance, which is associated with type 2 diabetes.
Emerging science is shedding light on more and more benefits of specific fats in our diets. Eating a moderate amount of healthy fat reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Healthy fats can even help with weight loss by making meals more satisfying, but even healthy fats should be limited to 30-35% of calories.