Fats have gotten a bad rap over the past couple of decades. Marketing pushes the idea that all fat is bad for us or that “fat will make us fat”. This is a myth! This low-fat fad (with no backed research) started in the 1960s and became even more popular by the 1980s when it was promoted by doctors, the federal government, the food industry, and the popular health media. Even though this fad was shown to be more harmful than beneficial, people’s fear of fat has stuck around, even to this day.
We are here to tell you that all fat isn’t bad! Certain fats are actually vital to your body’s health. Here’s what you need to know about dietary fats and how you can use this information to help optimize your health.
What Are Dietary Fats?
Dietary fats are made up of long chains of fatty acids. The particular type of fatty acids that make up the fat determines its characteristics and nutritional status. They are usually grouped into three main categories monounsaturated, saturated, or polyunsaturated. Foods have a varying percentage of all these types, as well as some even having trans fats. Trans fats can be man-made or occur naturally in food.
You can get dietary fats from plant sources or animal sources. Fats from animal sources tend to be solid at room temperature and are generally saturated fats. These include butter or lard. Plant sources like olive oil and sesame oil are made up of unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats and are liquid at room temperature.
Why Do We Need Fats?
Dietary fats support several processes in the body. Without them, vital bodily processes cannot proceed, or they don’t work optimally.
The right fats are essential for:
- supporting your immune function
- the creation of cholesterol- which is important for hormone production and so much more
- inflammation and healing
- maintaining healthy skin and hair
- helping the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K,
- plus fats make foods taste better
Fats are also the solid structural foundation to our cells! Our cell’s double membrane is made up of long-tail fatty acids. Our membrane plays a role in determining what’s allowed to come in and out of the cell. We must consume enough fats to keep our cell’s membrane healthy and strong.
Here are some other benefits of healthy fats:
- Fats are needed to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K
- They store energy
- Fats slow the absorption of carbohydrates, helping regulate blood sugar levels
- Help with cell signaling (aka communication)
- Fat helps maintain body temperature
- ARA and DHA can enhance brain and mental health
Which Types Of Fats Should You Consume?
If you’re thinking, “Well in2GREAT said fat was healthy so I’m doing my body a favor by eating this ice cream…” Not so fast. We want to emphasize the point that not all fats are created equal. It’s all about the quality of fats and oils that you consume. Some fats benefit processes within your body, while other types of fat interfere with them. Here’s a rundown on the types of fats.
Long-chain saturated fats are found mostly in milk and meat of grazing animals like sheep and cattle. These are the types that help create the structural component of your cells (70-80%). This type also is the main storage form of energy. When you cook these in high-heat, they aren’t prone to oxidative damage.
Medium-chain saturated fats are a great source of digestible energy. These don’t need bile acids for digestion. Check out our blog on “What Really Goes on During Digestion”. Coconut oil is an example of medium-chain saturated fats. What’s awesome about these types of fats is that they may have antimicrobial properties as well.
Monounsaturated fats are also a huge component of the cell wall. These types can be found in avocados, olives, certain nuts, and some meats. These kinds of fats may reduce LDL and triglycerides and increase HDL, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. However, studies show that monounsaturated fats from plant sources are best at lowering rates of heart disease rather than from animal sources. However, these fats are more susceptible to oxidation when used for cooking at high temperatures. Monounsaturated fats are safe for low temperature cooking and should be stored in dark containers to avoid going rancid.
Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature all the time. These fats play a role in gene regulation, body functions, and make up part of the cell membrane. Polyunsaturates are very unstable and highly reactive to light heat and oxygen so they should never be used for cooking. Instead these oils are better eaten raw and used as a finishing oil. Store them in a cool, dark place. There are two “sub-classes” of polyunsaturated fats worth mentioning. Omega 3s and Omega 6s which are essential to the body.
Omega-3 or Omega-6?
You want a good balance between both of these. A good ratio is between 1:1 and 1:4 omega 3: omega 6. It is critical to get this ratio in balance to help your body manage inflammation. Today, many Americans eat a ratio closer to 1:25. Too much omega 6 has been shown to deplete vitamin E levels, cause gut microbiome imbalances, increase inflammation, make you more susceptible to weight gain and metabolic diseases, and increase the risk of autoimmune diseases. However, ARA is a longer chain omega-6 that is needed for the growth and repair of skeletal muscle tissue. This is also the most abundant fatty acid in the brain.
Omega-3 fats, specifically the EPA and DHA within omega-3s, are what’s beneficial to our health. DHA and EPA are found in salmon, herring sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. Not having enough omega-3’s can contribute to diseases caused by inflammation. DHA is needed for proper development of the brain as well.
ALA omega-3 fats are found in flax seeds and walnuts. While some ALA can be converted to DHA and EPA, it’s a very small percentage. This conversion also requires other nutrients like vitamin B6, zinc, and iron. So be aware if you are eating only plant-based fat sources because you may not be getting all your DHA and EPA (beneficial components of Omega-3).
It’s important that you have a good balance of both omega-3s and omega-6s for healthy functioning.
Trans fats can affect your cholesterol levels and increase your risk for degenerative diseases like heart disease and cancer. Good fats are generally derived from unprocessed food sources, whereas trans fats are usually found in junk food and have no benefit to the body, they actually just cause harm.
Eat Good Fats, Don’t Restrict Them!
Our body needs fats for important functions. Without them, our body can’t function at its maximum efficiency. This is a lot of information to take in! So here’s a simple take away. The key to fats is to eat a variety of different fats to get all the benefits.
When cooking food in high heat, use avocado oil, coconut oil, and macadamia oil. When using low heat, you can use extra-virgin olive oil and extra-virgin coconut oil.
Cosume these fats the most:
- Avocados and avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Duck fat
- Olive oil
- Ghee (from Grass-fed cows)
- Butter (from Grass-fed cows)
- Macadamia oil
- Organ Meat and red meat from Grass-fed animals)
- Seafood (Wild-caught)
*make sure the animal fats you consume are from high quality, organic, pasture-raised or wild-caught animals.
Eat these fats in moderation:
- Sesame oil
- Avocado oil
- Almond oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Nut butters
Avoid these fats:
- Soybean oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Corn oil
- Sunflower oil
- Safflower oil
- Wheat-germ oil
Even if you are consuming healthy fats, your body may not be digesting and absorbing them entirely due to underlying issues. In2GREAT Functional Medicine Clinic in Kansas City can work with you to see if your body is functioning optimally. Through functional lab testing and analysis, they can create a plan to optimize your absorption and overall health. Please give them a call at (913) 308-0174 to set up an appointment.