Saturated, Unsaturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, Trans Fats? Omega-3? Omega-6? There is so much contradiction and conflict over which fats to consume, how much and in what way. Read on to learn everything about fats including the types of fats, which fats to use when and what are the benefits and pitfalls of each.
Introduction to Different Types of Fats:
Fats are one of three macronutrients and essential for health.
Fats are also called lipids. Healthy fats provide insulation for your organs. They help with blood sugar balance and satiety. They play myriad roles in metabolism and carry nutrients all around the body. Let’s first break down fats into different categories to understand them better.
Saturated fats are those found in animal fats and tropical fats like coconut oil. It’s structure makes it remain solid at room temperature. This structure is what makes them great to cook with, as they withstand higher levels of heat without damage to them. What’s great about them is that they can be heated without destroying their structure! They provide energy and they build our hormones. They carry Vitamins A, D, E and K.
Short chain ones like butter and ghee are easy to digest and contain butyrate which feeds friendly bacteria in your colon. Medium chain ones like coconut oil inhibit yeast and boost immunity. They also can support production of ketones and inproved fat burning. Long chain ones like beef fat should not be over consumed. Don’t be scared of healthy fats!!!
MUFA are found in olives, canola, sesame, nut and avocados oil. They are liquid at room temperature but solid when refrigerated.They keep our arteries supple, our skin healthy and they are heart guards! Think of the mediterranean! Guess what?! Olive oil contains a natural anti inflammatory chemical which behaves like an Ibuprofen. It should not be heated! Use it raw in pesto and salads.
A good extra virgin one can help avoid disease, benefit arthritis and joint problems and help even cancer. MUFA is great for your cardiovascular health, as they help lower LDL, improve HDL, lower triglycerides and lower inflammation.
PUFA are found as omega-3 fats of flax, hemp, chia, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, macadamia nuts, algae and fish, and as omega-6 in nuts, seeds, nut and seed oils which include sunflower and canola oils. They are unstable and easily become rancid.
While sunflower and canola oils are unhealthy PUFA, omega-3 fats help strength, motor coordination, vision, learning, brain health, immunity, high bloop pressure, high triglycerides, inflammation, skin and edema. The heathy omega-6 help with eczema, hair, kidney health, wound healing, arthritis and circulation.
Omega-3 and omega-6 need to have a good balance. Excess omega-6 consumption can lead to reduced vitamin E, inflammation and neurological impact. Consume a lot of greens, eat more flax, chia and hemp raw, eat a wide variety of wild fish and grass fed animal protein, include more walnuts and pumpkin seeds and marine phytoplankton. If you do have issues with any kind of chronic inflammation, check your diet for adequate omega-3 and good quality omega-6!
Omega-3 healthy fats have different variations as well, but the most important ones are ALA or Alpha Linoleic Acid, EPA or eicosapentanoic acid and DHA or docosahexanoic acid. ALA is the shortest chain and is found in plant sources like walnuts, flax and chia. EPA and DHA are longer chain and are found in sources like different fish and algae to an extent.
It is a misconception that ALA can be completely converted to EPA and DHA. Only a percentage of ALA can get converted and that too, not in everyone. Deficiency of omega-3 usually occurs due to inadequate EPA and DHA. The other aspect to note, is that the more omega-6 someone consumes, the more omega-3 will be there requirement.
Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are killer fats which are transformed to increase shelf life and are deadly! They are hard, stable fats and are not healthy fats and can disrupt the essential fatty acid activity in our body and actually lead to heart disease, raise LDL, lower HDL, increase triglycerides, increase inflammation, put us at risk for diabetes, interfere with enzyme structure that eliminate toxins and increase toxic load, interfere with our cell wall, disrupt hormones, upset metabolism, lower immunity and affect brain health. They are found in most processed foods and we must stay far away from them in order to stay healthy. They are not just nutrient less but dangerous!
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Benefits of eating healthy fats:
Fats play myriad roles in metabolism, and carry nutrients all around our body!
Don’t be scared of fats! Low fat diets have been linked to mental illness and chronic inflammation. Cut the trans fats. Increase healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6. Cook with saturated fats and consume some MUFA!
Fats maintain our blood sugar balance!
Even when your meal contains carbohydrates that have a higher glycemic index or glycemic load, the addition of a healthy fat reduces the glycemic index of the whole meal, allowing you to maintain balanced blood sugar.
Fats allow for amazing flavour!
Healthy fats emphasize the aroma and taste of a meal tremendously. Addition of fats make a meal more enticing.
Fats improve satiety of a meal
When you add fats to your meal, you can feel more full for longer. Low fat meals can create hunger more quickly than a meal with adequate healthy fats.Think about it. Most comfort meals have some healthy fats.
Fats supply energy!
Fats supply the body with energy as they have more calories per gram. Once the body uses carbohydrates, the next thing that it uses are fats for energy. Healthy fats are used to store energy in adipose tissues. Each of us is born with a specific number of fat cells, and these increase or decrease in size depending upon energy requirement as well as calorie consumption.
Fats protect organs and bones
While excess fats is a problem, your body needs some level of fats to protect organs and bones. Without any level of fats in the body, bones would be more susceptible to injury.
Fats are required to absorb fat soluble vitamins!
Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble vitamins. They require fats in order for your body tpo absorb them. Fats work with these vitamins to have a positive effect on eyesight, blood circulation, skin, hair, bone and brain.
Fats are required for cell membranes
Cell membranes are predominantly fat. For optimum cellular functioning, your body requires different healthy fats to preserve the integrity of cell membranes.
Fats protect your brain!
The brain is made up of almost 70% fat. Fats are required to manitain brain health, improve nerve response, stimulate release of neurotrasmitters like dopamine, serotonin, GABA and beta-endorphins and for healthy cognitive function. Inadequate fats in the diet has been linked to neurodegeneration and conditions of brain and meantal health. You can read about depression here.
Fats maintain body temperature
Fats play a key role in maintaining integrity of your skin. It prevents loss of moisture via the skin. When there is loss of water through the skin, it can cause a raise in body temperature. Fats prevent this and help you maintain a healthy body temperature.
Fats are the building block of your hormones!
Cholesterol from dietary healthy fats are the building block of both steroid hormones such as cortisol and sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. For healthy and happy hormones, you require an adequate intake of healthy fats. They are used to trigger menarche at the right time for young girls, maintain a healthy cycle free of complications and conditions in menstruating women and support a gentle menopause in older women. They also play a key role in fertility.
You can also read a lot more about fats in this great article!
Smoking points of healthy fats:
Every fat can be beneficial when used in the right way. While most healthy fats can be used for cooking, I advise staying with avocado oil, mustard oil, butter, ghee and coconut oil for high heat cooking. Use olive oil and sesame oil raw for the best benefits.