Eating fat appears to be a “no-no” according to many in the mainstream media, but what these sources fail to explain is at least 2 important points:
- Macronutirients include protein, carbohydrates and fats, and each has a place in a healthy diet.
- There are “good” fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acids) and “not-so-good” fats (saturated, trans fats, and some polyunsaturated ones). The idea should be to eat plenty of the “good” fats while saving the “not-so-good” ones for that occasional splurge.
– good sources include extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and cold-expeller-pressed organic canola oil. Diets high in monounsaturated fat appear to be heart healthy.
Omega-3 fatty acids
– these are essential fatty acids, meaning they are important for health yet cannot be produced in the body, and so must be obtained through the diet. Omega-3s are found primarily in coldwater fish (like Alaskan salmon, sardines and herring) and some nuts and seeds (walnuts, ground flax and hemp seeds). Regularly eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower triglyceride levels, decrease inflammation, enhance mood, and contribute to the prevention of heart disease. Fish oil supplements are a consideration for those of us who don’t enjoy or can’t eat fish and nuts, even for those who do (read labels carefully, and aim for a total daily dose of 2,000 mg of EPA + DHA combined), but speak with your doctor first. Look for fish oil supplements that guarantee purity, like those from Nordic Naturals, available at Harris Teeter. The emphasis, however, should be on dietary sources of omega-3’s whenever possible.
“Not So Good” Fats
- found primarily in full fat dairy products and fatty sources of animal protein, regular intake of this type of fat appears to increase the risk of high cholesterol levels and perhaps some forms of cancer, including colon cancer.
– is formed during a process called partial hydrogenation. Initially used to increase the shelf life of various products, trans fats appear to be more harmful to or health than even saturated fats. They appear to increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and may increase inflammation in the body. Trans fats have commonly been found in fried foods and many of our favorite packaged goods including bakery items, chips, vegetable shortening and margarines. Many companies have removed partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats from their ingredients, but not all of them, so be sure to read your food labels carefully.
– some of the more popular polyunsaturated cooking oils (sunflower, safflower, cottonseed and corn, for example) are high in omega-6 fatty acids, which may actually increase inflammation in the body. You still need some omega-6 fatty acids in the diet, but most people take in far too many omega-6s and far too few omega-3s (in some studies by a ratio of 20:1); the idea should be to get the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids closer to 4:1.
All in all, it’s not “fat” so much as it is the type of fat that can help determine whether a food is good for us or not. Just knowing that some of the fats available in foods (monounsaturated fats and omega-3s) are good for us can free us from giving “fat” a wholly bad reputation!