Healthy nutrition requires fat, yet fats are what people believe they need to give up first. This misguided idea that fats are not healthy in your diet was based essentially on the fact that fats contain more than twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates. While this is true, your body still requires this vital macro-nutrient.
For the last few decades, fat became a dirty word when it came to nutrition. It was after World War II that studies began linking saturated fats to heart disease. Because of this, people were advised to not consume as much fat. It was also believed that because fat contained twice the calories of protein and carbohydrates, that it was a driving force behind obesity. As it turns out, the “all fat is bad” message was wrong. Foods that contain fat help fill you up, so you feel more satiated and stop eating earlier.
When fats began being removed from foods entirely, or in part, another ingredient was incorporated to improve flavor. What the food industry began using instead of fats was sugar and other simple carbohydrates. What was not anticipated is that people would begin getting fatter and fatter with each passing year. Because of the impact that simple carbohydrates has on our endorphins, we began consuming far more calories than we ever did with foods prepared with fats. This rise in obesity has also caused a correlating rise in heart disease instead of the decrease that was predicted.
Not all fat is bad for you!
Not all fats are alike. Saturated fat, found mainly in meat and dairy foods, can contribute to clogged arteries and cardiovascular disease. The effects of saturated fat on health is among the most controversial topics in all nutrition. While some experts warn that consuming too much — or even moderate amounts — can negatively affect health, others argue that saturated fats aren’t inherently harmful and can be included as part of a healthy diet. The key is to consume only moderate amounts as you should everything else as well.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, found in plants and healthful oils, actually protect your health by improving your cholesterol profile. Your body needs some fat from food. Fat is a major source of energy. and it also helps you absorb some vitamins and minerals. Healthy fats are required in order to build cell membranes, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. They are also essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
For long-term health, some fats are better than others. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad ones include industrial-made trans fats. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.
It is true that Trans Fats are bad for you.
Early in the 20th century, trans fats were found mainly in solid margarines and vegetable shortening. As food makers learned new ways to use partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, they began appearing in everything from commercial cookies and pastries to fast-food French fries. Trans fats are now banned in the U.S. and many other countries, therefore they are no longer the problem they used to be.
It is well established that the consumption of foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. They also reduce the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even small amounts of trans fats can harm your cardiovascular health.
So, what is the deal with saturated fats?
Saturated fats are found in animal products and tropical oils. Whether or not these fats increase disease risk is a controversial topic, with study results supporting both sides of the argument. But, you need to keep in mind that there are different types of saturated fats depending on their carbon chain length, including short-, long-, medium-, and very-long-chain fatty acids. Each of these can have different effects on health. Not all saturated fats are created equal.
Saturated fats are saturated with hydrogen molecules and contain only single bonds between carbon molecules. On the other hand, unsaturated fats have at least one double bond between carbon molecules. This saturation of hydrogen molecules results in saturated fats being solid at room temperature, unlike unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, which tend to be liquid at room temperature.
One key take away in regards to saturated fats is that one single macronutrient can’t be blamed for disease progression and that diet as a whole is what matters. Though saturated fat intake may increase heart disease risk factors, research hasn’t shown a significant link between it and heart disease itself. Some studies indicate that it may negatively affect other health aspects, but more research is needed according to Harvard Health.
Contrary to what some nutritionists might say, foods high in saturated fat can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Coconut products, including unsweetened coconut flakes and coconut oil, grass-fed whole milk yogurt, and grass-fed meat are just some examples of highly nutritious foods concentrated in saturated fat that may positively affect health. Research has actually shown that full fat dairy intake has a neutral or protective effect on heart disease risk, while coconut oil intake has been shown to boost HDL (good) cholesterol and may benefit weight loss.
So, what is good about monosaturated and polyunsaturated fats?
There are two broad categories of beneficial fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. They differ from saturated fats by having fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid.
Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature. Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
It was discovered in the 1960’s Seven Countries Study that monounsaturated fat could be healthful . This study revealed that people in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean region enjoyed a low rate of heart disease despite consuming a regular high-fat diet. The main fat in their diet, though, was not the saturated animal fat common in countries with higher rates of heart disease. It was olive oil, which contains mainly monounsaturated fat.
Polyunsaturated fats can have a beneficial effect on your heart when eaten in moderation and when used to replace saturated fat and trans fat in your diet. From a chemical standpoint, polyunsaturated fats are simply fat molecules that have more than one unsaturated carbon bond in the molecule, this is also called a double bond. Oils that contain polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature but start to turn solid when chilled.
Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E to the diet, an antioxidant vitamin most Americans need more of.
Oils rich in polyunsaturated fats also provide essential fats that your body needs but can’t produce itself – such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. You must get essential fats through food. Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are important for many functions in the body.
Quit avoiding dietary fats!
Contrary to popular myth, fats are not something that just automatically search out and then cling to your own body fat cells after you have consumed them. The consumption of healthy fats are not going to clog your arteries nor will they cause your cholesterol to rise. Dietary fats are essential to give your body energy and to support cell growth. They also help protect your organs and help keep your body warm. Fats help your body absorb some nutrients and produce important hormones, too. Your body definitely needs fat. Eating foods with fat is definitely part of a healthy diet. Just remember to choose foods that provide good fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and balance the amount of calories you eat from all foods with the amount of calories you burn.