Fat has earned a bad reputation in our society. In a culture obsessed with weight loss and the quest for the perfect body, the nutritional facts around fat and its necessity in our diet have been lost. Since the early 1920s, women have adopted the ideology that slimmer is better, and fat keeps them from having the slimmest figure possible. However, removing all fat from the diet is both nutritionally unsafe and unnecessary.
Fats play an important role in our bodies, from carrying vitamins that are only soluble in fat throughout the bloodstream to helping important processes involved with growth and brain development. Understanding the different kinds fats is the key to understanding their nutritional benefits.
To begin with, all fats are 9 calories per gram, which is the highest amount per gram of the macronutrients. There are two groups of fats, saturated and unsaturated, and within those two groups are many other types of fats. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and come from animal sources like meat, dairy, and eggs. Coconut oil and palm oil fall into this category as well.
While not all saturated fats are harmful, trans fats, which fall into the category of saturated fats, are quite harmful. Trans fatty acids are also referred to as partially hydrogenated oils. These are vegetable oils that have been altered to stay solid at room temperature by adding hydrogen. These fats are found in fried foods and processed foods like margarine. According to the American Heart Association, trans-fatty acids raise bad (LDL) cholesterol, cause inflammation, clog arteries, and increase the risk of heart disease.
Good fats, unsaturated fats, come from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish, and contain less hydrogenation than saturated fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats raise good (HDL) cholesterol, promote shiny hair and strong nails, and help us shed excess weight. Included in this group of fats are avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and Omega 3s from fish like salmon, along with nuts, and seeds.
Some fats, both saturated and unsaturated, are trending right now and offer some fantastic health benefits. First up is coconut oil. Although it is not an animal source of fat, coconut oil is considered a saturated fat, but it’s not only good for the outside of our bodies as a moisturizer, it is easy for the body to digest. Coconut oil aids in brain health and memory function, is full of antioxidants, is a powerful anti-inflammatory, raises good (HDL) cholesterol, and increases overall heart health.
Next are Omega-9s, which are monounsaturated fats, or oleic acids found in foods like extra virgin olive oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and sesame oil. Although our bodies can produce omega-9s, unlike omega-3s and-6s, it is important to understand the benefits of getting enough of this fat in our diet. Omega-9s work in combination with Omega-3s to increase energy and enhance mood, memory function, and cognitive functioning. If you are going to supplement with Omega-9, it’s best to choose a supplement that contains all three omegas, Omega 3-6-9.
Algae oil is a vegetarian source of Omega-3 and is a more sustainable form of the nutrient. Omega-3s, like Omega-9s, reduce inflammation and aid in cognitive functioning. Omega-3s contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is crucial for the growth and development of the infant brain. It also improves learning ability and overall brain functioning into adulthood. DHA is also beneficial for reducing the incidence of diseases such as hypertension, arthritis, atherosclerosis, depression, adult-onset diabetes mellitus, myocardial infarction, thrombosis, and some cancers.
Grass-fed butter is a very healthy saturated fat. Butter contains fat, of course, but grass-fed butter also contains vitamins A, E, and K. It does not contain any carbohydrates or sugar. Grass-fed butter is also high in conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). CLA is a type of polyunsaturated fat, omega-6. CLAs aid in weight loss, regulate sugar and insulin production, improve immune function, and have anti-inflammatory properties.
It is no longer a “fat free” focus on weight loss in this country. As is seen in many diets trending in 2018, like Keto and Paleo, the addition and use of healthy fats is an important part of weight loss and health. In moderation, avocados, nuts, coconut oil, and full-fat dairy are all healthy, and tasty, additions to our diets.