Essential Fats

By Health Plus

Decoding Dietary Fat

Fats are some of the most misunderstood nutrients in our diets. While some believe that avoiding all dietary fats is healthy, others see no harm in consuming them. To further complicate the issue, most people aren’t familiar with the different types of dietary fats or which foods provide them. To ensure you are getting enough healthy fats in your diet - and minimizing potentially harmful fats - here’s what you need to know.

Why do we need fat?

Just like carbohydrates and proteins, fat is an essential macronutrient. This means our bodies absolutely need fat! Fats plays a key role in providing energy to the body and supports a variety of vital functions, including:

  • Building and supporting cell growth
  • Protecting heart, brain and nerve health
  • Absorbing fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E and K
  • Hormone production

What is the difference between dietary fats?

Excess calories, as we all know, are converted to fat by our bodies. Unfortunately this is not the type of fat our bodies need for optimal health. Most of the fat we need comes directly from the foods we eat. Dietary fats fall into four primary categories, two of which are healthy in moderation and two that are less productive. Since many foods have a mixture of all four fats, the goal is to find a healthy ‘fat’ balance in your diet. This can be accomplished by reducing foods with the highest levels of ‘bad’ fat and increasing your intake of foods with ‘good’ fat.

Bad Fats

Saturated Fats: Saturated fats are often referred to as solid fats because they become hard at room temperature; think of a stick of butter or the fat that solidifies in a pan after cooking a hamburger. A steady diet high in saturated fats is considered unhealthy because it can raise the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL) in the blood. Too much LDL can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and strokes. Sources of saturated fat include:

  • Animal meat and meat products like bacon, sausage, deli meats
  • Whole or 'reduced fat' dairy products such as cheese, ice cream, milk, and butter
  • Processed foods including baked goods, packaged snack foods, pizza
  • Select vegetable oils, including coconut, palm, palm kernel and cocoa butter

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting saturated fat to less than 10% of your daily caloric intake, or replacing them completely with healthier fats.

Trans Fats: Most trans fats are manufactured using liquid vegetable oils that are heated in a process known as partial hydrogenation. Regularly consuming food high in trans fats is a triple threat to your health. Trans fats not only increase ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and lower ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol, they also create inflammation in the body which leads to the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions. Minimize or avoid these fats entirely.

While most food companies have already eliminated trans fat from their products it is important to read food labels carefully. ‘Partially hydrogenated oil’ is another term for trans fats. Trans fats are most commonly found in:

  • Fried foods
  • Doughnuts, pies, pastries, and other processed baked goods
  • Stick margarines and shortenings
  • Fast foods

Good Fats

Unsaturated Fats: Unsaturated fats are usually liquid at room temperature and turn solid only when chilled. They are known as ‘good’ because they actually help improve cholesterol levels in the blood. Supporting ‘good’ HDL levels in cholesterol helps lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, and reduces inflammation in the body. There are two types of ‘good’ fat, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These fats are similar in function but have slightly different molecular structures and food sources:

  • Monounsaturated fats (MUFA): High levels are found in plant-based foods like avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds. Olive, canola, peanut, safflower and sesame oils are also high in MUFAs.
  • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA): Unlike MUFAs these fats are found in plant and animal products, and contain Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. Walnuts, pumpkin seeds, algae and oily fish like salmon, herring and sardines are excellent sources of PUFA’s, as are soybean, corn, flaxseed and sunflower oils.

What are Essential Fatty Acids?

In a conversation about healthy fat it is also important to understand essential fatty acids (EFAs). EFAs are found in polyunsaturated fats; they are termed essential because the body cannot manufacture them on its own. Omega-3 and Omega-6 are examples of essential fatty acids.

Eating foods rich in Omega-3 is particularly important for heart health and protection against cardiovascular disease. They play a key role in supporting brain and immune function, nervous system development, and in providing your skin with a healthy glow. The Omega-6 fats are known to support heart health and circulation, and help maintain blood sugars levels.

At one time Omega-6 received criticism for its potential to trigger unwanted inflammation in the body. Consumed in appropriate amounts this appears untrue. A recent report published by Harvard Medical School, citing data from dozens of studies, found Omega-6 safe and beneficial for the cardiovascular system.

To ensure you get a beneficial ratio of EFAs in your diet the American Heart Association recommends getting 5-10% of your daily calories from polyunsaturated fats.

As with all things nutrition balance is key. Each macronutrient, fats included, are essential for good health. Focus on adding healthy fats to your meals, minimizing harmful fats, and supplementing when necessary. At Health Plus we use Omega 3 and MTCs (medium chain triglycerides) in Turmeric Heart. MTCs can also be found in Turmeric Joint and Turmeric Digest.


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