When it comes to macronutrients, fat gets a bad rap. While some of this may be justified, not all fats are created equal. In general lipids are essential for health and a major source of fuel for human metabolism. They are needed to absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, E, K, and D, needed to build cell membranes, protect our organs, and required for many other physiological functions. Evolutionarily speaking, we have consumed a high-fat diet for the past two million years, and only since the advent of agriculture did we switch to consuming more carbohydrates than fat and increased the wrong types of fat in our diet. It is important to recognize that there are “good” fats and then there are “bad” fats. Consuming too much of the wrong kinds of fat can be associated with health problems, whereas, consuming the right fats has many health-promoting benefits.
The bottom line is it's not how much fat you eat that raises blood cholesterol levels and increases risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, it is the type of fat you eat. Good fats include monounsaturated fats, some saturated and polyunsaturated fats. Bad fats include commercially produced trans-fat.
Below is my recommendation for fats to include in your diet and fats to avoid:
Approved Fats and Oils:
- Saturated fats: Although there has been much debate over saturated fats, I believe that some sources of saturated fats are completely fine to incorporate into your diet. These come from organic butter from grass-fed cows, organic virgin coconut oil, grass-fed beef, and whole-milk dairy products (if you can find raw milk -even better). Saturated fats from processed fatty meats such as bacon, hot dogs, lunch meats, salami, and sausages should be avoided. Additionally, steer clear of saturated fats from baked goods!
- Monounsaturated fats: Research has consistently shown that eating foods that contain monounsaturated fat can improve your blood cholesterol level and decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. These include olive oil, avocados, nuts (almonds, cashews, peanuts, pecans)
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats and are considered essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them so you must get them from food. Good sources of omega-3 includes fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, organic eggs, flax seed, grass-fed meats, walnuts
- Omega-6 fatty acids: It is important to note that ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids is terribly important to health. Unfortuantly, we are consuming way more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3. Excessive amounts of omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and a very high omega-6/omega-3 ratio, as is found in today's Western diets, promote the pathogenesis of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, whereas increased levels of omega-3 (a low omega-6/omega-3 ratio) exert suppressive effects. With that said, I would limit high consumption of omega-6 fats but if you do incorporate these fats into your diet, good sources include include sesame oil, walnut oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts, seeds (sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds), evening primrose oil, and organic tofu.
- EPA/DHA: These fatty acids are omega-3 fats. They reduce inflammation, dilate blood vessels, and decrease platelet aggregation. Increasing consumption can be beneficial for high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and arthritis. Additionally, DHA plays a very important role during fetal development, early infancy and old age. Pregnant women as well as elderly should ensure they are getting adequate amounts of DHA for fetal brain development and improved cognitive function. EPA/DHA are only found in a few foods and fatty fish from cold waters, such as salmon and mackerel, are the richest dietary source. I recommend fish oil supplement (just make sure they contain these compounds) or including marine algae in your diet. My favorite supplement is Carlson's Cod Liver oil.
Fats/Oils to avoid:
- Trans-fat: Found in margarine, pastries, baked goods, fast-food french fries, fried foods, vegetable shortening, and processed snack foods. This is the worst type of fat known. It is a byproduct of a process called partial hydrogenation, in which chemists convert carbon-carbon double bonds into carbon-carbon single bonds making oils to solids. This process is done to produce desirable food texture ad reduce spoilage. (McGuire and Beerman,2013). According to Harvard Health, “Eating foods rich in trans fats increases the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces 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.” (The Truth About Fats, 2015)
- High amounts of Polyunsaturated fat: From corn oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed, safflower, soybean. High amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory and should be limited. Excess consumption of polyunsaturated fats is associated with increasing rates of cancer, heart disease and weight gain; excess use of commercial vegetable oils interferes with the production of prostaglandins leading to an array of complaints ranging from autoimmune disease to PMS (Trocki, 2015). Additionally, if not certified organic these oils more than likely contain GMO ingredients. My advice is to stay clear!
McGuire, M., & Beerman, K. A. (2013). Nutritional sciences: From fundamentals to food.Belmont, CA: Yolanda Cossio.
The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. (2015). Retrieved March 19, 2015, fromhttp://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good
Trocki, Tori ( 2015). Supplemental Information Regarding Fats. Personal collection of Trocki T, Maryland University of Integrative Health. Laurel, MD.
Zimmermann, M., & Burgerstein, L. (2001). Burgerstein's handbook of nutrition micronutrients in the prevention and therapy of disease. Stuttgart: Thieme.