There’s still a lot of confusion out there about whether fat is friend or foe. For years the food industry pushed low-fat products on us, and many of us believed that a low-fat diet was the path to optimal health.
However, many health experts, including myself!, are in agreement that “good” fats, that is, the healthy ones, are beneficial. So, you can swap the “low” fat for “good” fat. The truth is, our bodies actually need “good” fat to function at their best.
Fats provide your body with a major source of energy, help you absorb certain vitamins and minerals, and build healthy cell membranes — the vital exterior of each of your cells. Fat also builds the sheath that surrounds your nerves. In fact, this sheath actually protects your heart and brain health. Fats are essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and modulating your inflammatory response.
Certain fats should be a regular part of your diet. I’ll tell you some great food choices to include to make sure you’re getting plenty of the ‘healthy’ fats in your diet. You can also take my Omega-3 supplement, which supports your thyroid, your immune system, and even your ability to get a good night’s sleep.
However, I not only want you to include good fats, like Omega-3 fatty acids, I also want you to be aware of — and on the lookout for — bad fats, which contribute to a host of health problems including heart disease. Let’s take a closer look at what dietary fat is as well as the different fats in the foods we eat.
What is Dietary Fat?
Dietary fat is one of the three macronutrients (along with protein and carbohydrates) that provide energy for your body, aid in nutrient absorption and even support healthy blood cholesterol levels.1 There are unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats.
The chemical structure of these dietary fats is made up of a chain of carbon atoms bonded to hydrogen atoms. The types of dietary fats differ, however, in the length and shape of the carbon chain and the number of hydrogen atoms connected to the carbon atoms. Small differences in structure make big differences in function and how they impact your health.
The Good, Healthy Fats
These are the good ones! And I’m so glad because these healthy fats are found in some delicious foods such as avocado, nuts, olives, and salmon. The health benefits of good fats include managing your moods, supporting mental acuity, fighting fatigue, and even controlling your weight. Let’s look at these two types of “good” fats, the unsaturated fats.
1. Monounsaturated fat
Sourced from plants, these fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that they have two fewer hydrogen atoms than saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as sunflower oil, among others.
2. Polyunsaturated fats
Another type of “good” or essential fats are the polyunsaturated fats. Essential fats are required for normal body functions yet your body can’t make them. So, you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain.
There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves your overall cholesterol profile.
While Omega-6s, including those from grass-fed meats, ghee, and flaxseed can be healthy, they can also lead to inflammation, so it’s important to limit both the quantity and the ratio to Omega-3s. I’ll touch on that more below.
Today, I’m focusing on Omega-3, as it has tremendous health benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids help optimize heart health by balancing triglycerides and supporting a healthy blood pressure.
Omega-3s help you create prostaglandins all over your body.
Prostaglandins are made at the site of tissue damage to help you deal with injury and illness. Without the appropriate levels of Omega-3s to create prostaglandins, your body’s inflammatory response cannot be properly modulated.
Some good sources of Omega-3 include oily fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines; fish oil and flaxseed oil; flaxseeds, walnuts, and chia seeds; and green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale.
Including good fats into your diet leads to increased satiation — feeling full — so you will eat less, and potentially lose excess pounds. I have many recipes to help you include these in your diet in my cookbook The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook!
Saturated fatty acids are determined by the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom. The chain of carbon atoms holds as many hydrogen atoms as possible — it’s “saturated” with hydrogens. Saturated fats can raise cholesterol, including high-density lipoprotein (HDL or “good”) cholesterol. Saturated fats are also solid at room temperature.
Foods high in saturated fats include protein-rich animal products such as red meat which also contains iron, zync, and vitamin B12. Red meat was thought to go hand in hand with heart disease, yet at least one study has said that evidence doesn’t conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.2
What Foods Contain Good Fats?
Consuming good fats is imperative. Your entire body is dependent on healthy fat from your diet. I recommend eating a diet rich in the following:
- Grass-fed meats, organic poultry, and wild-caught fish
- Seaweed, algae, spirulina, and chlorella
- Chia, hemp, and flax seeds (if you tolerate them)
- Nuts including almonds and walnuts (if you tolerate them)
- Avocado and coconut
The Bad, Unhealthy Fats
Trans fats occur in very small amounts in some food. Most trans fats are made from oils by a food processing method called partial hydrogenation. These partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase total blood cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and lower HDL cholesterol. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats are banned in the US and many other countries; however, anything with less than .5 grams per serving is still permissible, so you still have to watch out. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. For every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
Trans fats are found in many commercial products including pastries, cookies, muffins and other baked goods, pizza dough, snack foods such as crackers and chips, margarine and vegetable shortening. Trans fats are also present in fried foods such as french fries and breaded and fried meats. All hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils should be avoided!3
The Omega-6 Issue
As I stated earlier, the Omega-6 fatty acids found in certain foods can be healthy. However, your body uses the same enzymes to process both Omega-3s and Omega-6s. Yet, Omega-6 is pro-inflammatory, while Omega-3 is neutral. So the balance between these two types of fatty acids you eat is critical. A diet high in Omega-6 and little Omega-3 increases inflammation and the presence of inflammatory diseases such as heart disease and autoimmunity. A diet rich in Omega-3 and low in Omega-6 reduces inflammation.
The source of the Omega-6s you consume is important, too.
Soybean oil, canola oil, and highly processed corn oil are all poor sources because they’re made from inflammatory foods. Cottonseed oil, which is increasingly common, is made from a waste product of cotton fiber farming, and isn’t even grown as a food crop. It’s highly processed yet still contains pesticides. All of these oils are best avoided.
I also recommend avoiding and ideally completely eliminating the following foods from your diet:
- Deep-fried foods
- Commercially baked goods
- Processed and packaged foods
To fill in the gaps if you’re not always eating a balanced diet, I recommend my Omega-3. Fish oil is the world’s best and most bioavailable source of the Omega-3 fatty acids, EPA & DHA. Fish oil supports everything from luxurious hair, a healthy mood, cognitive function, to joint comfort, glowing skin, and a healthy heart.
Just like a high-quality multivitamin, a top-quality fish oil should be at the core of everyone’s supplement regimen. My Omega-3 is pharmaceutical grade, GMP certified, and 3rd party tested by Eurofins. My Complete Omega-3 Softgels are the purest, highest-potency fish oil supplement available on the market today.
For more information, Mike Mutzel discusses fat and gut hormones from a clinical nutrition perspective.