When we think about eating healthy foods, we all know to eat our fruits and veggies and to avoid junk food. But did you know that the type of fats you eat have a significant effect on your overall health – perhaps more than any other type of foods?
Here are a few of the reasons why:
Fats are an energy source
You’ve probably heard of glucose as an energy source, but in the absence of glucose, the body uses fat. That’s why people lose weight on low carbohydrate and ketogenic diets.
We need fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamins A, D, E, K
All of these are essential to our good health, and if we’re not eating enough fats or the right types, we’re not absorbing these vitamins.
Fats are the building blocks of every cell in the body
You’ve probably heard me say it – cells make our tissues and organs and tissues and organs make our bodies. If our cells aren’t healthy, we aren’t healthy. And if we’re avoiding fats, or eating poor quality fats, our cells aren’t healthy.
Fats fill us up and make foods taste good!
Fat doesn’t make you fat and it’s OK to eat it. It’s OK to like the tastes it brings to food. But some fats are better than other fats.
A quick bit of history – for all of my lifetime, and probably yours too, we’ve been told that fats are bad, especially saturated fats and that we shouldn’t eat them, and when we do, we should only eat vegetable fats. Turns out that this is completely wrong thinking.
I know, I know – it’s really hard to turn around the thinking that you’ve grown up with. And the information that’s available to us now is still confusing. But please consider that science is always progressing and that we often have to change our perspectives – this is one of those times. So, let’s get to it!
Here’s a quick rundown of the types of fats we come across
Saturated – these fats become solid at room temperature
Unsaturated – these fats stay liquid at room temperature
Now let’s break them down a little bit.
Saturated fat is typically, although not always, sourced from animal foods, like the fat you find in meat, eggs and dairy, as well as palm oil and coconut oil.
This one has gotten a bad rap since the 60s. And while it’s true that you can get too much of a good thing, our bodies need saturated fat. It’s a building block for cholesterol, which also has gotten a bad rap, but performs a ton of functions in the body, including the structure of the cell membrane and keeping our hormones balanced. So, yeah, we need some cholesterol, and if there’s too much, the question becomes WHY is there too much? What is the body trying to tell us? Quick story from my own life: At one point, for reasons I won’t go into here, I started using sunflower oil as my primary oil. I went to the doctor, and my cholesterol had shot up 30 points. 30 points in 6 months! The doctor didn’t really have anything to say about it, since my levels were still in the safe zone, but even though this was before my nutritional therapy training, I knew it was trying to tell me something. I quit the sunflower oil and went back to what I had been doing and the next time I got checked, my cholesterol was back to where it had been. Here’s the deal. Our cell membranes need a balance of saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats give them structure and unsaturated fats keep them pliable so that nutrients can get in and out of the cells. I had not gotten enough saturated fat and the cell membranes got flimsy, so my body made cholesterol to give them the structure they needed. Once I got saturated fat back into my diet, the cell membranes got more healthy and I didn’t need all that cholesterol, so my body backed down from making it.
Unsaturated fats There are poly-unsaturated fats and mono-unsaturated fats. These are typically (although not always) from plant sources. Olive oil, oils from nuts and seeds, avocado oil.
We’ve been told to eat vegetable oils to avoid heart disease, but it turns out that it matters – a LOT – what kind of vegetable oils we eat.
If you don’t remember anything else from this article, remember these two things:
1. Some oils are so highly processed that they should never be eaten. These include fully or partially hydrogenated fats, also known as trans fats, highly processed vegetable oils, fried fats, canola oil (also known as rapeseed or mustard seed oil), soy and cottonseed oils.
2. Otherwise, what makes a fat unhealthy is the way it’s processed or the way the animal is raised.
When shopping for oils, look for unrefined and/or cold-processed oils. Heat, including cooking, degrades the healthy properties of both saturated and unsaturated fats. For a list of the best oils for cooking, as well as the fats to eat and to avoid, click here.
The refining process of most vegetable oils uses toxic chemicals, which completely destroy all of their health promoting properties and causes the oils to become inflammatory in our bodies.
When eating animal foods, look for products that are sourced from grass-fed, pastured, organic animals. These actually contain healthy Omega 3 fats, while factory-farm raised meats, eggs and dairy products contain Omega 6 fats.
Let’s talk for a minute about Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. These fats can’t be made in the body, so we have to get them from our food and the Omegas need to be balanced. You’ve probably heard about using fish oil to increase your Omega 3s. The reason most of us need to increase our Omega 3s is because our diets are so devoid of them and we get an overabundance of Omega 6s. This leads to inflammation in the body, which underlies most of the chronic diseases people suffer from today.
Omega 3s are found in fish oil, flaxseed oil and others and Omega 6s, found in sunflower, sesame, safflower and other oils. Due to the processing most foods undergo, in some cases even cooking, the Omega 3s are often degraded, so we wind up with too much Omega 6s, which causes health issues like heart disease and inflammation.
Be sure to read the labels on EVERYTHING you buy. Recently, I was in the store and I saw a product that looked promising to me – avocado oil mayonnaise. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised to find out that the label was misleading. Keep your eyes open for a video about this!
So, to summarize: Avoid inflammatory fats that damage your cells, and happily eat a combination of saturated and unsaturated fats to make your food taste great, keep you full and make every cell in your body as healthy as it can be!