Should Fat Still Be Considered The Dirtiest Word In Nutrition?

Fat may be seen as a dirty word, but it doesn’t deserve its bad reputation; not exactly.

The body needs fat for energy and it also uses fat to better process certain vitamins and minerals. However, fat can also heighten the risk for cardiovascular health problems as well as obesity. When making up your mind about fats, the most important thing to remember is that not all fats are created equal. Some fats can promote good health whereas others can do nothing but harm your health. Being able to distinguish between the two will allow you to make healthier dietary choices.

Here we have the good guys when it comes to fat. 

Unsaturated fats

Unsaturated fats are seen as good fats due to their heart-health benefits that include lowering bad cholesterol and easing inflammation. They’re classified as either monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.

Monounsaturated fats

These are the main fats in the Mediterranean diet, which is widely considered to be the healthiest diet in the world. The main monounsaturated fat is oleic acid (OEA/ commonly known as Omega-9) that can be found in olive oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil and sesame oil. Not only can oleic acid help you manage your weight but it can also help to raise the good HDL cholesterol in the body.

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Aside from various studies highlighting how monounsaturated fats can help to lower bad cholesterol (thus reducing the risk for heart disease), other studies have revealed how these fats can help lower blood pressure and improve insulin sensitivity – helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes – as well as reducing inflammation, thus lowering the risk for chronic diseases.

Foods high in monounsaturated fats include almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans, olive oil, canola oil and avocados.

Polyunsaturated fats

This form of unsaturated fats helps to lower triglycerides, which helps to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and obesity. Polyunsaturated fats are categorized into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids (which also be further broken down into ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are essential for human health.

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These fatty acids help to ease inflammation, regulate cholesterol levels and encourage weight loss, as well as reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and depression. Omega-6 fatty acids are another polyunsaturated fat that can ensure cardiovascular health. However, high levels of it in the body have been linked to inflammation. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in vegetable oils, nuts, flax seeds, chia seeds, and fish such as sardines, tuna, salmon, trout, mackerel, and herring.

Now, meet the bad guys

Saturated fats

This is a form of fat that continues to divide the nutritional world in regards to its dangers. While the actual effects of saturated fats are still continuously debated to this day, it’s been agreed that excess levels of this fat in the body can increase the risk of heart disease as it raises LDL cholesterol levels. Consuming foods that are high in saturated fats can lead to excess calories and weight gain, which explains why saturated fats are associated with health issues. Perhaps saturated fats can be safe if one consumes them in moderation, yet this still needs to be researched further.

Heart disease & dairy

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that saturated fats found in dairy products do not increase the risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are primarily animal-based and can be found in fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb, dark chicken meat and poultry skin, as well as dairy products such as whole milk, butter, cheese, sour cream, ice cream and tropical oils like coconut oil, palm oil and cocoa butter.

Trans fats

This is ugly when it comes to dietary fats and it’s important to avoid it. Although it is naturally occurring in small amounts in meat and dairy products, trans fats are a synthetic fat. Through the process of hydrogenation, it is transformed from unsaturated fats to trans fats so that it can help increase the shelf life of many foods. This process also produces oils that can withstand repeated heating which makes them ideal for frying fast foods.

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Unfortunately, they do very little for your health. Not only do they increase LDL cholesterol, but they also decrease HDL cholesterol. These fats can both increase insulin resistance – increasing the risk for one developing Type 2 diabetes – and inflammation. These fats continue to be linked to an increased risk of heart attacks. Fried foods, such as fries and hamburgers as well as packaged foods and baked foods are rich in trans fats. Be sure to read the labels of packaged goods in order to ensure that you avoid these fats. Look out for terms such as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated. However, not all processed foods may indicate so on the label thus the best thing to do would be to not include processed foods in your diet.

This might be easy because as of 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) made an announcement where they recognized partially hydrogenated oils as they were generally unsafe to eat before giving food manufacturers until 2019 to phase them out.

Eating different types of fat

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 25 to 35% fats of your daily calories should come from fat. Ensure that the source of these fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and not trans, or even saturated fats. The more you know about fats, the smarter (and healthier) your dietary choices can be.

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