For years, misinformation has led people to fear fats. It’s been assumed that if someone eats fat, they’ll store it as fat and become fat, but the reality is that any macronutrient eaten in excess is later stored as fat. Fats are enjoyable to eat – they make things richer, creamier, add mouthfeel and help with satiety, but the type of fat does need to be taken into consideration.
Saturated and Trans Fats
There are three different types of fats: saturated fats, trans fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats and trans fats should be minimally consumed, as recommended by the American Heart Association, as these fats raise “bad” LDL cholesterol and lower the “good” HDL cholesterol. Saturated fats are often found in animal products such as meat and dairy; trans fats are found in highly processed foods, margarine and hydrogenated oils.
Unsaturated fats are the heart-healthy fats, raising the HDL cholesterol and lowering the total and LDL cholesterol. There are two types of unsaturated fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Get more unsaturated fats into your diet with foods such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, nut butters and fatty fish.
Omega-3 and omega-6 are polyunsaturated fats and essential fatty acids. The word “essential” indicates they must be consumed in the diet and cannot be made in the body. Additionally, omega-3 and omega-6 cannot be converted to one another and have different functions. In the American diet, much higher amounts of omega-6 are consumed compared to omega-3 since processed foods often contain vegetable or soybean oils, which have high amounts of omega-6s but little to no omega-3s. An imbalance of the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio can result in inflammation over time. Low grade inflammation of one’s entire system poses to be a significant risk factor in development of cardiovascular disease.
Choosing the Right Fats
According to the CDC, 1 in 4 people die from heart disease. To best support your health, it’s important to fuel your body with the proper fats for heart health and brain function. Remember to limit saturated and trans fats, and work to swap omega-6 rich vegetable oils (including sunflower and corn) for olive oil, avocado oil, fish, walnuts, flaxseed and flaxseed oil to increase omega-3s and the ration of essential fatty acids.
Fats are back in style, just make sure to choose the right fat!