WHAT IS GOOD FAT?
When it comes to health, not all fats are equal. Reducing some types of fats helps lower the risk of several chronic diseases, but other types of fats are absolutely essential to our body’s heart, nerves, immune system and even our brain function.
Our brain is composed of 60% fat.
We do not want to eliminate all fat. The key is eating GOOD FAT. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids, are good fats. They are found primarily in nuts, sea food, and plant oils like canola, peanut and olive oils.
Polyunsaturated fats such as safflower, cottonseed and corn oils,and seafood. Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, nuts and seeds, such as flax seeds. People following traditional Mediterranean diets that are high in foods containing monounsaturated fats like olive oil, tend to have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Of course just because something is labeled “low-fat” doesn’t mean that you can gorge yourself on it and gain no weight. “Low-fat” foods can be bad for us if not eaten in moderation.
Here are the “good fat” vs “bad fat” basics:
MONOUNSATURATED FATS – Monounsaturated fats such as avocados, salmon, almonds, walnuts and flax seed, olive oil can help lower triglyceride levels and decrease inflammation. Research studies have shown that eating foods that are high in monounsaturated fats may help lower your “bad” LDL cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats may also keep “good” HDL cholesterol levels high.
POLYUNSATURATED FATS and OMEGA-3, -6 and -9 FATTY ACIDS – Polyunsaturated fats include Omega 3’s, 6’s, and 9’s. There’s only one omega-3 fatty acid (alpha linolenic acid, abbreviated LNA or ALA) and one omega-6 fatty acid (linoleic acid, or LA). Omega-3 fatty acids are found in foods from plants like soybean oil, canola oil, walnuts, and flaxseed.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found mostly in liquid vegetable oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and safflower oil. Most people eat too much of omega-6 and not enough of omega-3, so it’s a good plan to focus on eating omega-3’s. Omega-9’s are the most abundant fatty acids of all in nature, and they are not lacking in our diets. They are also not considered essential because our bodies can make omega-9 fatty acids from unsaturated fat already stored in our bodies. Omega-9 is found in animal fat, vegetable oil and olive oil. Omega 3 can be found in fish, olive oil, nuts, and omega 3 eggs, green beans, mungo, navy, pinto and kidney beans.
Most nuts have a much higher Omega 6 ratio than Omega 3. For example, this nutritional chart from SelfNutritionData, shows the large difference in omega 6 and omega 3. Therefore, the best nuts to eat would be walnuts, for increasing omega 3 in the diet.
- Macadamias – 60 vs 360 (about 16 times omega 6 to 3)
- Almonds – 2 vs 3400 (about 1700 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Hazelnuts – 20 vs 2200 (about 110 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Pistachios – 70 vs 3700 (about 52 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Brazil Nuts – 5.1 vs 5800 (about 1,137 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Cashews – 7 vs 2200 (314 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Walnuts – 2500 vs 10,100 (4 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Pine Nuts – 31 vs 9400 (303 times more omega 6 to 3)
- Pecans – 280 vs 5800 (about 21 times more omega 6 to 3)
Foods rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats include:
- Olive oil
- Canola oil
- Peanut oil
- Sunflower oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Wild Salmon
- Fresh tuna
SATURATED FATS: There is currently some controversy about saturated fats. Saturated fats are fats that are turn solid at room temperature. Over the years, many research studies have shown that saturated fats, like lard, full-fat dairy products and fatty animal proteins, can increase risks of heart disease, high cholesterol and some cancers, such as colon cancer. However, recent studies contradict earlier studies. More research may be needed to determine the long-term effects eating a regular diet high in saturated fats. It’s generally thought that it is best to limit the amount of saturated fats and replace the saturated fats with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats.
Saturated fats include:
- High-fat cuts of lamb, beef, and pork
- Chicken with the skin
- Whole-fat milk
- Whole-fat cream,
- Whole-fat butter
- Whole-fat cheese
- Whole-fat ice cream
- Palm oil
- Coconut oil
There are some benefits to saturated fats as listed above. However, according to recent research from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and a report from Harvard School of Public Health, cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with unsaturated fats. A diet of all saturated fats can lead to serious health problems. A balanced diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and “good fats” is the best plan.
Saturated fats are found in many foods and food products. According to recent research from the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health and a report from Harvard School of Public Health, if people cut back slightly on saturated fats and replace them with more carbohydrates like breads, white rice, potatoes, and sugars, then they will most likely not see any improvement in weight loss or lowered cholesterol. However if they cut back on saturated fats, and replace saturated fats with “good fats” they will see results. Eating good fats, like monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats can help to lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol. It can also improves the ratio of total cholesterol to “good” HDL cholesterol. This can reduce the risk of heart disease. Eating good fats in place of saturated fat can also help to reduce the risk of diabetes.
WHAT ARE BAD FATS?
TRANS FATS: |Trans fats such as fried foods, packaged cookies, chips, candy, granola bars, and cooking oils, increase bad cholesterol and inflammation, and decrease good cholesterol, increase the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Foods high in trans fats have little nutritional value.
- Commercially packaged pastries, cookies, pizza dough, cakes, muffins, waffles, doughnuts, etc.
- Packaged snack foods (chips, crackers, and popcorn)
- Margarine in stick form
- Vegetable shortening
- All fried foods (fried fish, French fries, fried chicken, tempura, etc.)
- Candy bars
- Some commercially packaged granola bars (check for partially hydrogenated oils)
HOW DO WE MAKE A LIFESTYLE CHANGE?
If restaurant and food manufacturers can switch to Omega-9 Oils, they can reduce these bad fats by up to 80% when changing from partially hydrogenated soybean oil. You can help make a change by alerting people to the research about the harmful (and perhaps deadly) effects of long-term use of trans fats. The best plan is to eliminate all trans fats completely from the diet (especially fried foods and packaged or commercially baked foods) and to limit saturated fats. Eat more monounsaturated or polyunsaturated foods rich in omega 3’s, such as flax seeds, walnuts, fish, and canola oil. Check your labels and shop wisely.
Your label probably won’t list, “trans fats,” or might list trans fats as zero, but if the label lists “partially hydrogenated oils,” this means it contains trans fats, plain and simple.
It’s important to check your labels. The FDA gave food producers considerable flexibility in their labeling, resulting inn labeling which is misleading. Current law says that any food containing less than .5 grams of trans fat can “round down” and indicate trans fat content as 0 grams. Therefore, a listing of zero trans fats, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is zero, and a food product that is advertised “trans-fat free” most likely is almost trans-fat free but might very well include trans fats. If your label lists hydrogenated oils, you are eating trans fats.
We all have the freedom to be educated, informed consumers so that we can take care of our bodies wisely. All fat is not bad, and it’s important to our health to include “good fats” in our diets. We can use the above tips, the resources below, and our good fat food chart to stay healthy and fit.
Mozaffarian D, Micha R, Wallace S. Effects on coronary heart disease of increasing polyunsaturated fat in place of saturated fat: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. PLoS Med. 2010;7:e1000252.
Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2010;12:384-90.
Astrup A, Dyerberg J, Elwood P, et al. The role of reducing intakes of saturated fat in the prevention of cardiovascular disease: where does the evidence stand in 2010? Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93:684-8.
Hooper L, Summerbell CD, Thompson R, et al. Reduced or modified dietary fat for preventing cardiovascular disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011:CD002137.
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