3 Part Nutrition Series - Everything You Need to Know About Fats
Bring on the coconut oil! :D
Can you tell that I get a tad bit excited about healthy fats? Yep. Call me the crazy coconut oil lady or the avocado addict - I've come to accept it now anyways. Besides, anything is better than Ms. Mustard.... ;)
WHAT ARE HEALTHY FATS?
The keyword being healthy fats. I see it far too often clients who submit their food diaries to me and nearly all of their meals contain sources of unhealthy, inflammatory fats. It's tough to wrap our heads around the idea of there being such a thing as good fats after we've spent years avoiding any and all traces of it after being told: "fat makes you fat." This couldn't be further from the truth. Sugar, stress, hormonal imbalances, and excess calories promote weight and fat gain, but it certainly isn't fat alone that is the cause of our muffin tops and love handles.
I'm going to ease into this post slowly as I know it's going to take some time for everyone to open up to the idea of eating olive oil, avocado, whole eggs and fattier proteins. We're trying to undo decades of low-fat diets here people, let's not rip the bandaid off too fast and scare you away ;)
Alright, let's dip a toe in. Healthy fats are important for regulating our metabolism, vitamin absorption and for fighting heart disease and free radicals.
There are three types of fats - trans fats, saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats can be broken down further into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, but we'll get to that in a bit!
I think we can all agree that trans fats are a no-no. Most people recognize how unhealthy they are as they raise LDL (bad cholesterol levels) and lowers HDL (good cholesterol levels). Not what we're looking for! Not only do they wreak havoc on your cholesterol levels, they promote inflammation in the body, another big no-no. How? Great question - thank you for being so involved ;) Trans fats block the production of Type 1 & 3 prostaglandins which work to reduce levels of inflammation in the body and balance our nervous and hormonal systems. Let's backup a little. Inflammation is our bodies response to a deviation in homeostasis - also known as equilibrium. If you're like equil what? Don't worry, it just means that our body has endured some form of injury and inflammation levels rise to fight the infection. Pain, swelling, heat or redness are all signs of inflammation in the body. If your inflammation levels are elevated for too long, you pose the risk of developing arthritis, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, heart disease.... and various other chronic inflammatory diseases. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, but this is why it's so important to consume healthy fats!
Saturated fats are extremely nourishing for our brain, bones, immune system and nervous system. Take a deep breath, I know, I just flipped your world upside down by telling you to eat more saturated fats. But our brains are composed primarily of fat (saturated fat specifically) and cholesterol, so why wouldn't we feed them what they want? Our bones need saturated fat in order to absorb and deposit calcium properly - without it, we risk osteoporosis and bone density loss. Lastly, our immune and nervous systems benefit greatly from saturated fats as they fight inflammation, viruses, and bacteria in addition to coating axons found in our nervous system with fat. See the importance now?
So when you find yourself fearing the fat - eat it anyways! Know that it is helping to improve your digestion, transport nutrients across the cell membranes and encouraging healthy hormonal activity. Whew that's a lot of important jobs to do ;)
While saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature (think red meat, butter, and cheese), unsaturated fats tend to be liquid and come primarily from vegetables, olives, nuts, seeds & fish. Just to make things more complicated, unsaturated fats can be broken down into two further categories - monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids (MUFA's & PUFA's).
Monounsaturated fatty acids are commonly found in oleic acid which is classified as an omega-9 fatty acid. They are found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and whole milk. I strongly encourage you to eat more monounsaturated fats than saturated fats as saturated fats are great for you, but in moderation! MUFA's help to protect against heart disease promotes weight loss and improves insulin sensitivity - which is extremely important if your goal is fat loss!
Polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, can be broken down further into omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Our omega-3 fatty acids include EPA, DHA, and ALA (eicosapentaenoic, docosahexaenoic & alpha-linolenic acid). All three of which support our heart, brain development, cognitive performance, bone health and help us to maintain a healthy weight. Omega-6 fatty acids are also essential, but we tend to have an easier time obtaining them as our society eats far more processed foods than we should. They can be found in the form of gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), dihomo-gamma linoleic acid (DGLA) & conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) Ideally, we should be eating a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of omega-6's to omega-3's for optimal health.
Is your brain a bit of a mush ball at the moment? Don't worry, we'll get you back into shape and on your way to eating only the good fats :)
SO What do I eat now?
All the fats. No really. All of them, except for trans fats, but you knew that already ;)
Eggs - the whole egg!
Olive oil, flaxseed oil, hemp oil & coconut oil
Fatty fish (salmon & arctic char)
Nuts & seeds
Red meat (organic or grass-fed is best)
Eat lots of healthy fats, from all sources. Reduce your intake of trans fats by skipping the deep fried food, chips, cookies and margarine. Try to increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids by eating more salmon, flaxseeds, walnuts and chia seeds) and be sure to get a healthy source of fat at every meal.
Now, go get yourself some chocolate avocado pudding! ;)