There is a lot of information and confusion regarding dietary fats and what sources are healthy. This can be a lot to take in when considering your own personal diet, but try not to stress! The point of this article is to give some general information regarding the types of dietary fats, and to provide some examples of good sources. Dietary fats are not the enemy, in fact, they are actually essential parts of a healthy, balanced diet.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are fats that are often liquid at room temperature and solid when chilled. They are beneficial in many ways and can come from various dietary sources. MUFAs can be protective against multiple conditions that contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease and can also help to improve cholesterol profiles while lowering blood triglycrides. They are a moderate source of dietary CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant that acts to protect against free radical damage and is a necessity for cellular energy production. On top of that, CoQ10 is a vessel which can help with the absorption and recycling of essential nutrients like vitamin C and E. CoQ10 also helps protect the heart and blood vessels from damage due to oxidative stress. Another extremely common condition in Western populations is the prevalence of insulin resistance, often caused by dysfunction in adipose (fat) tissue, leading to diabetes. Consuming adequate amounts of MUFAs can contribute to increased insulin sensitivity and may even help to restore normal function of adipose tissue as well as aiding in weight loss.
Sources: avocados, extra virgin olive oil, various nuts (macadamia, hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, cashews), seeds (sesame, pumpkin)
Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are often found in liquid form and are an important part of a healthy diet. PUFAs are known in two main forms: omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are essential for brain function and cell growth. They are considered essential because our bodies do not produce them, so we are required to obtain them through diet. They are also a great source of CoQ10. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial in reducing blood triglycerides and may help lower blood pressure, and are also protective against fatal heart disease due to their anti-inflammatory effects. They can help decrease inflammation contributing to multiple conditions including autoimmune diseases, psoriasis, mental illness (depression/anxiety), arthritis, etc. Omega-6 fatty acids also play an important role in achieving/maintaining optimal health, as they too have anti-inflammatory properties which help to prevent cardiovascular disease, inflammatory diseases, and mental illnesses. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids should be consumed in a 3:6 ratio respectively. However, traditional Western diets are often imbalanced with people consuming a ratio of 1:15 or 1:20 omega-3:omega-6, which can actually cause inflammation and contribute to cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is important to ensure a balanced diet with regards to PUFAs, especially when it comes to getting enough omega-3’s and an appropriate amount of Omega-6’s.
Omega-3 Sources: fatty fish (salmon), hemp, flax and chia seeds
Omega-6 Sources: most vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, soy bean), nuts and seeds (walnuts, pine nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds)
Saturated fat, often known as the ‘bad’ type of fat, has an interesting history. Saturated fatty acids (SFAs) gained a grim reputation when the Lipid Hypothesis was introduced; by the end of the 1980’s it was accepted that a high intake of SFAs raised blood cholesterol, that cholesterol lead to atherosclerosis, and that lead to cardiovascular disease. However, since the appearance of the Lipid Hypothesis there has been numerous studies, which may even exceed the number of those in support of the hypothesis, that contraindicate the correlation between SFAs and cardiovascular disease. The health promoting effects of SFAs include protecting the liver from toxins, enhancing the immune system, providing cell membrane integrity, ensuring proper utilization of essential fatty acids, as well as playing a vital role in calcium incorporation into skeletal structure. Saturated fats are also a moderate source of dietary CoQ10, which plays an important role in cardiovascular health. Short and medium chain SFAs, like those found in coconut oil, also have important antimicrobial properties, protecting us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract. The key with SFAs, since good sources are often animal fats, is that the source is indeed a healthy source. For example, meat coming from an animal that can roam in its natural habitat and has been organic farm raised and well fed will ensure that the fats coming from the source are of highest quality versus an animal that is unable to exercise, is corn-fed, probably overweight, and has chronic stress/inflammation. The quality of fat plays an immense role on how the fat is used by the human body – if the fat has come from a source with chronic inflammation and possibly inflammatory disease the fat itself may do more harm than good. Therefore, the fat may not be used or processed properly by the human body which can then contribute to inflammation and other health issues.
Sources: animal products and non-reduced fat dairy (preferably organic, farm raised, well fed), butter, coconut oil
Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are fats that are produced industrially in a process that adds hydrogen to liquid oils, resulting in a more solid compound. TFA’s are known to raise ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol and lower ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol and therefore, act as a double negative against your health. TFAs are often used in mass production of food because they are inexpensive and have a relatively long shelf life. In addition to that, they also give foods a desirable taste and texture, and are commonly used in commercial baking and frying in both packaged food and in restaurants. Unfortunately, there are ample sources of TFAs, including most fried and baked foods such as cakes, pizza, pie crust, biscuits, cookies, crackers, and margarine. When it comes to food label regulations regarding TFAs the situation is quite misleading; products can be listed as ‘0 grams of trans fats’ if they contain less than 0.5 grams per serving. So, when it comes to products like chips or their baked counterparts, advertising may claim the product is trans fat free when, in all reality, there are indeed trans fats. This becomes even more of an issue when it comes to serving size, as the manufacturer of the product can adjust serving size to reflect a desirable nutrition facts table and amount to make the claim, yet people may be eating double or more of the serving size. To reduce TFA intake, look out for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils on ingredient lists and limit the amount of commercially baked/fried goods if your diet (reduce frequency of eating out, and try to avoid inner aisles of grocery stores).
Sources: hardened vegetable oils, most margarines, commercially baked and fried foods
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