Of all the food groups, fat is the most commonly misunderstood. We’re taught to believe that our obesity problems and related health conditions come from eating too many fats. As a result, many people avoid any kind of oils or fats in their weight-management programs. However, the truth is that fats are crucial to numerous areas of health. They just have to be the right kind. Here’s how to know the difference.
Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAs)
Monounsaturated fats are generally liquid at room temperature and are found in many common oils such as flax, sesame, olive and sunflower at various ratios, along with polyunsaturated fats and saturated fats. Some studies suggest that consuming foods with MUFAs can support healthy cholesterol, balance insulin and control blood glucose.
Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs)
Polyunsaturated fats are found mostly in vegetable or grain oils as well as some fish oils. They demonstrate benefits similar to MUFAs; essential fatty acids such as omega-3 and omega-6 fats fall into this category.
Essential fatty acids are critical for health; the body doesn’t produce them on its own. They’re obtained from foods such as flax seeds, chia seeds, fish oil and other sources. However, a balanced ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 is critical for preventing chronic illness. Our modern diets are laden with omega-6 (abundant in many commercial vegetable oils) and deficient in omega-3s: a dangerous ratio that can lead to chronic inflammation, free radical, oxidative damage and related conditions. A good solution is to supplement with additional omega-3 oils to balance this ratio. Some nutritionists even recommend a completely balanced 1:1 ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 to address inflammation, cardiovascular health and more.
Contrary to popular belief, moderate intake of saturated fats supports cellular integrity, cardiovascular health, immunity, vital energy and other critical areas of health. Found mainly in butter and animal fats, coconut oil, and some other tropical oils, saturated fats are more solid at room temperature. Importantly, they are good cooking oils, particularly clarified butter (called ghee in India) and coconut oil. These fats remain relatively stable at higher temperatures, which means they don’t easily become rancid during cooking. This is very important, because healthy fats can turn dangerous when rancid — the molecular structures of the oils change, wreaking havoc on cells and tissues with free radical damage.
The Dangers Of Trans Fats
The worst fats are trans fats and their newest relatives, “interesterified” fats. These industrial fats are created from a chemical process used in food manufacturing, designed to give oils and processed foods a longer shelf life. Trans fats should be avoided completely: They fuel inflammation, disrupt cell signaling and interfere with numerous critical functions. Furthermore, the body doesn’t recognize them and has a difficult time processing and eliminating them. As a result, these harmful substances build up and contribute to weight gain, unhealthy LDL cholesterol levels and arterial plaque. They are associated with diabetes, heart disease, immune dysfunction and other serious conditions.
How To Use Healthy Fats
Total healthy fat intake should be roughly 25 percent of your daily calories. Incorporate healthy oils such as raw olive oil or flax oil into your meals, as a salad dressing, added to soups or drizzled on cooked foods. Add chia seeds, which are some of the highest sources of omega-3s, and avocado to a morning fruit smoothie. Throw some raw walnuts in a bag to snack on throughout the day and incorporate more cold-water wild fish such as salmon into your diet. You can also look for supplements containing balanced ratios of essential fatty acids.
What About High Cholesterol?
In moderation, good fats can help reduce elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol, improve HDL (good) cholesterol and can help improve cardiovascular markers. Certain healthy fats, such as coconut oil, can actually help burn fat and promote a balanced weight. Furthermore, healthy fats help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, a critical component in promoting heart health and protecting against cardiovascular disease.
We evolved to eat fats. They provide us with critical nutrients and antioxidants, offer a critical source of energy and form the building blocks of cells, tissues and organs, especially the brain and nervous system. Healthy fats, such as olive oil, have been used therapeutically for millennia. In Eastern medical traditions, oils infused with therapeutic herbs and compounds play a very important role internally and externally, helping to restore health physically, mentally and emotionally.