There is one fact about fats that is absolutely true: we all need to eat them. We need them for energy and good health.
Why fats are so crucial
- Fats help the fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K) to become absorbed into the body.
- Fats promote brain functioning, specifically learning, memory, mood control, and the manufacturing of hormones. Sixty percent of the brain is fat.
- Fats lower inflammation and pain. They help control the metabolic and immune systems. They help regulate the clotting mechanism in the blood, which is crucial for preventing clots that may lead to heart attack or stroke.
- Fats cushions the organs.
For anyone watching their weight, it should be remembered that a gram of fat is 9 calories, while a protein or a carbohydrate gram is 4 calories.
The four basic fats
- Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are the healthiest of the four types. They are liquids at room temperature but become solid when chilled. MUFAs are beneficial in five ways: 1) cholesterol is reduced, 2) the risk of heart disease is lowered, 3) belly fat is reduced, 4) in a Swedish study, breast cancer risk was reduced, and 5) pain and stiffness are reduced in rheumatoid arthritis.
- Trans fats: These fats are located at the unhealthy end of the healthy-unhealthy range. They are generally made industrially from vegetable oils and used in packaged bakery products like cakes, in margarine, snacks, and in deep-fry oils at fast food restaurants. The Food and Drug Administration declared that trans fats no longer were "Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS)." Trans fats raise the LDL ("bad" cholesterol), and lower the HDL ("good" cholesterol). They raise the risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Labels of all processed foods should be checked for the phrase "partially hydrogenated" oil. This means trans fat and should be avoided.
- Saturated fats: "Sat fats" are found in a variety of foods and are solid at room temperature. Most raise cholesterol. Animal fats are the usual source, as well as some plants. Some examples are red meats, poultry with skin, lard, cream, cheese, dairy products made from whole milk and 2% milk. All contain cholesterol. They can be found in plant-based oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil, which do not contain cholesterol. It should be noted that the fat of an animal is where toxins are stored. Many conventionally-raised animals in large factory farms live in filthy conditions, are under much stress, and eat corn feed rather than grass or other natural food. It is advisable to check the source of meat, poultry and dairy and to buy organic and natural products.
- Polyunsaturated fats: These healthy fats are found in many foods also. They lower triglycerides, lower the buildup of plaque on the blood vessel walls, lower the risk of irregular heartbeats, lower the risk of diabetes, control blood sugar and more. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated and are especially good for protecting heart health and lowering the risk of stroke. They can also help depression, lower blood pressure, reduce ADHD symptoms, help joint pain, possibly strengthen the immune system and help some skin conditions. Their partner, omega-6 fatty acid, is found in eggs, cereal, poultry, vegetable oils, baked goods and margarine. It helps in clotting in the bloodstream, but must be balanced by omega-3s so that harmful blood clots don't form.
Suggestions for healthy fat consumption
- MUFAs are found in olive oil, and the best is pure extra-virgin olive oil. They are also found in avocados, walnuts, cashews, pecans, macadamia nuts, whole milk products, red meat and more.
- Saturated fat should be eaten in moderation. The American Heart Association continues to recommend limiting sat fats to less than 7% of daily calories, since sat fats can add up to a lot of calories.
- Polyunsaturated fats can be found in fish — salmon, mackerel, albacore tuna, and trout — as well as in nuts, seeds, algae, kale, leafy greens, and vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean and corn.
For the weight-conscious, the American Heart Association recommends that 25-30% of the total diet be from fat calories, mostly from mono- and polyunsaturated fats.