There has been a lot buzz lately on dietary fats. Are the good? Are they bad? Do we eat too much or not enough?!?! Well today I wanted to go over some ins and outs regarding those lovely lipids. As most of us know, nutrition information is constantly changing. And long time readers know I like bashing fads because carbs, sugar, and chemicals aren’t necessarily bad for you, and probiotics and antioxidants aren’t as good for you as you think! So what you learned in health class probably won’t look anything similar to what you read in here today.
Out of the 3 macro-nutrients, fats were the first to get demonized. You couldn’t go anywhere to buy food in the 90’s without seeing an entire section dedicated to low/no fat foods. This “fat is bad” message has, unfortunately, stuck with many people. However, we now know that some fats are good and can actually decrease the risk for heart disease, hormone (testosterone) production, and aid in brain development/function! And lets not forget that fat is necessary for absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K. What else is fat good for you ask? Well aside from making foods delicious, dietary fats slow down digestion which slows the rate at which sugars from carbohydrates enter our blood stream. Lets also not forget that fat is a good fuel source for exercise.
The 4 Big Links In The Chain
Dietary fats can be classified into four main types; trans fats, saturated fats, mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Each of these fats are structured differently via chains of specific molecules, and therefore impact our health differently.
– Trans Fat – These fats are blasted with hydrogen molecules to make them more stable so that the food products they’re added to will last longer on supermarket shelves, spread more easily, and are easier to cook with. But they have been shown to not only increase our bad (LDL) cholesterol, but decrease our good (HDL) cholesterol.
– Saturated Fat – This fat family can be found in animal derived foods like red meat and dairy products made from cream or whole milk, as well as some plants, like coconuts and avocados. However, the animal-based saturated fats have been found to increase LDL cholesterol.
– Mono and Polyunsaturated Fats – AKA MUFA’s and PUFA’s, these are the good guys. This is also the group to look to when we talk about Omega-3’s. They can be found in plant-based cooking oils (i.e. olive, canola, grape seed oils), ground flaxseed, avocados, olives, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish like salmon or mackerel. These guys work together to moderate things like inflammation, blood clotting, muscle contractions, as well as improve blood cholesterol levels and protect against heart disease.
What To Do
The best thing you can do is to make yourself aware of what you’re putting in your pie hole. And because nothing goes better with pie than coffee (I’m so awesome at making segues), I’ll start by saying that adding fat from butter to coffee is a bad idea. In particular, bulletproof coffee claims that their special coffee, and use of medium chain triglycerides (MCT’s), will help you lose weight. However, these claims are mostly unfounded, and this concoction will likely lead to nothing more than poor blood lipid profile. It is worth noting however, that MCT’s (coconut oil) may have some mild body composition benefits, but only if they are used in place of some other fat or calorie sources. This goes in line with the first tip of being aware of what you’re putting into your body by choosing more plant and fish-based fats. Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds and nut butters and fatty fish like salmon should reign supreme.
If you’re reading this then I know you’re not illiterate. So there is no excuse for you to not start reading ingredient lists! By avoiding foods that refer to any ingredient as partially hydrogenated, you will be steering yourself clear of those nasty trans fats. This code word is commonly found in peanut butter, baking mixes, commercial baked goods like cookies, crackers and cakes as well as some some margarines, lards and fried foods. So check your pantry to identify any guilty parties.
Get the most out of your nutrient-rich foods by eating them with healthy unsaturated fats. By adding a little oil to your salad you will get the most out of the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Similarly, by drinking 1% over skim milk you will get more Vitamin D!