Want to understand healthy fats? Remember the 90s when everything was marketed as low-fat? The food industry cut dietary fat in foods and loaded up on sugar making a statement that “low-fat” foods were healthy. Food became more processed and Americans continued to gain weight contributing to long-term health issues. The low-fat movement didn’t work from a dieting perspective. But, it most definitely changed the way we think and the way we eat.
The Mediterranean Diet
Meanwhile, overseas in the Mediterranean, people continued to eat healthy, plant-based, and fish-based fats. While the Standard American Diet (SAD) recommends <30% of calories from fat, the Mediterranean diet recommends 30-40% of calories from healthy fats. They are not transfats in cookies and crackers to consume this fat; they are consuming olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, and other oils.
Research shows that the Mediterranean diet can also help prevent heart attacks, strokes, type 2 diabetes and premature death, as well as promote weight loss. -Clinical Interventions in Aging
Unsaturated Fatty Acids
No longer does the health and wellness industry agree with low-fat foods. Actually, science says that we need polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as well as omega fatty acids. But not all fats are good for us and knowing the difference is important. First, let’s talk about the fats that we need in our diet. Second, we will talk about the fats we don’t need to be eating.
Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated
The good fats. These fats are single or double bonds between carbon atoms, are typically liquid at room temperature, and are fairly unstable, making them susceptible to oxidative damage and a shortened shelf life. What does that mean you ask? They quickly expire. Monounsaturated fat increases HDL (high-density lipoprotein), the “good cholesterol”, which helps to reduce atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
Essential Fatty Acids
There are more good fats. Essential fatty acids are another type of polyunsaturated fat that must be obtained in our diet. Omegas, as commonly referred to, are found in fish and egg yolk. They promote a healthy immune system and help protect against heart disease and many other diseases. They also contribute to reduced blood clotting, dilation of blood vessels, and reduced inflammation. As Americans, we tend to not get enough omega-3 fatty acids in our diet. Polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and essential fatty acids are considered healthy fats across the board when asking most health organizations.
The jury is still out on these fats. They are controversial in the health community and are considered “bad fats” because they can increase levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein). That’s the “bad” cholesterol that leads to atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. The World Health Organization claimed that adults should not consume more than 10% of these fats in their diet. American dietary guidelines agree. But more progressive health and nutrition organizations have scientific studies that show otherwise.
A handful of recent reports have muddied the link between saturated fat and heart disease. One meta-analysis of 21 studies said that there was not enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, but that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease. -www.health.harvard.edu
These saturated fats contain no double bonds between carbon atoms making them typically (but not always) solid at room temperature and very stable. Think butter. Coconut oil is one of the more popular saturated fats that is considered part of a healthy diet.
Transfats are the bad fat typically listed as “partially-hydrogenated” oil on a food ingredient list and are a man-made effort to make unsaturated fat solid at room temperature attempting to prolong its shelf life. This is the fat found in processed food items. You want to avoid this type of fat in your diet as it has no positive benefit to your body’s function. It actually damages your heart and increases your LDL significantly more than saturated fats. If you see the ingredient “partially-hydrogenated” on the back of your product, it’s best not to make that purchase.
Benefits of Eating Healthy Fats
– Reduce cravings
– Lower the risk of diabetes
– Reduction of internal inflammation
– Reduce belly fat
Eat less trans fat (found in processed foods)…
Pre-packaged cakes, cookies, and pies
Dairy-free coffee creamers
Healthy Fats in Summary
Finally, when considering your fat intake on a daily basis, use a food log. For three days, write down your meals and snacks and assess your current diet for areas where you can improve the types of fat you are consuming. If a packaged cookie at 8 pm is a regular occurrence, replace that snack with a sweet piece of fruit. For a more exact measure of your macronutrients including your fat intake, download an app that helps to measure the amounts of each food you consume. Remember, measuring your food daily can become an obsessive behavior, so use this tool in limited increments to get the data you need and stay balanced in your mind and body.
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