The truth about fats
Diet and Exercise
One subject that often comes up with clients is fats. “Are some fats good?” and “Which fats are bad?”
Let’s clear some of the confusion. Fats are one of the three principal macronutrients, along with carbohydrates and proteins. A fat molecule consists of primarily carbon and hydrogen atoms, which make up the fatty acids and glycerol found in fat. That’s why “triglycerides” refer to a type of fat found in the blood. Fats are also hydrophobic which means they are insoluble or don’t dissolve in water.
Three common fats in our diet are polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and saturated. Unsaturated fats are recognized as the “nice guys” of fats.
- Polyunsaturated Fats
These fats can help lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol blood levels, so they’re good for your heart. They can even help maintain HDL (good) cholesterol levels. HDL cholesterol is considered “good”, because it helps remove other harmful forms of cholesterol from the bloodstream. Polyunsaturated fats provide omega 3 fatty acids, which can help fight inflammation, depression and anxiety, improve eye health and promote infant brain health and development during pregnancy and early life.
Polyunsaturated fats can also help prevent insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes. The omega 6 fatty acids found in polyunsaturated fats help stimulate hair and skin growth, maintain bone health and regulate metabolism. However, omega 6 fatty acids can actually cause inflammation if taken in over abundance, so I recommend getting no more than 10% of total daily calories from polyunsaturated fats. Sources include walnuts, sunflower seeds, fish such as salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, herring and trout, corn oil, soybean oil and safflower oil.
Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and when refrigerated. In fact, fish oil has to be polyunsaturated, or cold water fish’s blood wouldn’t be able to flow.
- Monounsaturated Fats
These fats are liquid at room temperatures and semi-solid when refrigerated. These “good” fats likewise help reduce HDL (bad) cholesterol blood levels. They lower risk for breast cancer, lessen soreness and stiffness from arthritis, fight inflammation and insulin resistance. Turns out, monounsaturated fats can even help you lose weight, by helping your body burn more fat, especially from the stomach area.
They can also help you lose weight by raising your “basal metabolism”. Basal metabolism is the number of calories your body burns or metabolizes each day at rest. I recommend monounsaturated fats make up 20% of total daily calories. Sources include nuts, avocado, olive oil, canola oil, safflower oil (high oleic), sunflower oil, peanut oil and sesame oil.
- Saturated Fats
These fats have higher melting points, which makes them solid at both room and refrigerated temperatures. A diet rich in saturated fat can drive up total cholesterol levels, increasing the amount of LDL (bad) cholesterol. In fact, saturated fats are the main dietary cause of high blood cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol in the blood can cause plaque to build up in arteries. This is known as atherosclerosis and could lead to coronary disease.
There are, however, some healthful benefits derived from saturated fats, like building stronger bones, improved liver function and healthy brain.
Saturated fats are also associated with lung health. Lungs are coated with a lubricant-type substance called “lung surfactant”, which allows the lungs to expand and contract. The fat content of lung surfactant is 100% saturated fatty acids. Sources of saturated fats include beef, pork, lamb, dark chicken meat, poultry skin, whole milk, butter, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil, cocoa butter and lard. I recommend saturated fats make up no more than 6% of total daily calories.
Eating more “good” unsaturated fats in place of saturated fats provides more healthful benefits, so while saturated fats do provide dietary support and are not as harmful as once thought, evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fats remain the most healthful form of dietary fat.
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