With the obesity epidemic rising at an alarming rate, urgent research into what has lead to the current worldwide state of obesity and diabetes is uncovering findings almost daily. Ione of the latest findings is that fat is beneficial to weight maintenance and disease prevention. In the 1950’s, we were told that fat was bad and carbs were good. The idea was that we should eat “low fat” foods, to shed fat and prevent disease. This theory was presented by Dr. Ancel Keys, after research done in the Mediterranean, where incidents of cardiovascular disease was low. Unfortunately, the research was mostly anecdotal and not done with a scientific approach. Nevertheless, the theory gained popularity and we all became mortally afraid of fat. The food industry responded by creating “low fat” versions of almost everything. But with the removal of fat from foods, flavor was affected and high amounts of sugar and salt, had to be added. The more we consumed of our “low fat” foods, the fatter and sicker we became. Obviously, there are other factors that contribute to the rise in obesity and disease, but scientists had to question if fat really was the villain it had been made out to be. Today, fat is making a nutritional comeback. We now understand the importance of a healthy amount of fat in the diet. Not only does dietary fat influence our fat burning, it also plays a role in the prevention of heart disease, blood sugar stabilization, reduction in inflammation and cognitive and brain function. For fat to be healthy however it has to be the right kind. Let’s look at which fats we should eat, and how we should eat them.
MUFA’s monounsaturated fatty acids, are found in avocados, walnuts, almonds, olives and olive oil. These raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, preventing heart disease.
Omega-3’s are essential fats that must be consumed as they are not made in the body. Omega-3’s include EPA, responsible for heart health, DHA which is important for brain health, and ALA. These fats are found in salmon, halibut, tuna and sardines as well as seaweed, walnuts, flax seed and chia seed.
MCTs, medium chain triglycerides, are easily digested and quickly used for energy. Diets rich in MCTs are associated with better brain health as well as energy conversion and cardiovascular health. Coconut oil is about 60% MCT.
Trans fats, are produced when liquid fat (vegetable oils) is turned into solid fat. (margarine and shortening) Trans fats increase inflammation in the body. Inflammation is directly linked to disease and premature aging. Trans fats also increase bad cholesterol, LDL, which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. These fats are found in commercially baked and prepared foods, cookies, crackers, and other shelf stable snacks and foods.
Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower and blended oils) and also cause inflammation. A diet high in Omega-6 is linked to obesity, weight gain, thyroid and hormone imbalance and heart disease. The problem is compounded by the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. The recommended ratio is 4:1 but we consume 40:1, a staggering imbalance!
With the resurgence of fat as a popular macronutrient, even butter and ghee, a clarified butter are now gaining popularity in many diets such as Paleo and Bullet Proof. I would still caution against using fat from grain fed cows, as this fat has a much less desirable health profile for many reasons.
The bottom line is that fat is an essential macronutrient that plays a vital role in blood sugar regulation, weight management, brain function, hormone production and disease prevention. Fat also aids in flavoring our foods, decrease hunger and increase motility and digestion. I counsel my clients to get 25- 30% of their daily calories from healthy fats. Clients that are eating a very low carbohydrate diet need additional amounts of fat, as the two macronutrients are inversely correlated. As carb consumption goes down, fat must come up and vice versa.
Unni Greene. C.M.T., C.N.S. is the owner of SoMi Fitness, where she helps clients gain control of their fitness and health. For more information, visit www.somifitness.com or feel free to email Unni at email@example.com