Fat does not make you fat. As odd as it may sound saying it out loud, it’s true. Just like other macronutrients, fat comes in a variety of forms, namely good fat vs bad fat, and including too much of one thing, and the wrong type, may lead to unwanted weight gain and even impede your health and fitness goals. So, what are the best fats to include in your diet? And which fats should you stay away from? We’re going to discuss these questions and many more, and breakdown the difference between good fats, bad fats, and everything in between.
Does Fat Make You Fat?
In the early 1980’s big manufacturers in the food industry, marketed fear around fat. Low-fat diets were marketed as a way to prevent heart disease and inspire weight loss, when in fact; fat is not the one to be scared of. The low-fat approach to weight loss became an all-encompassing ideology prescribed by physicians, touted by the federal government and splattered across popular media publications. America as a society accepted the low-fat diet approach, even though there was no definitive or clear scientific evidence in supporting a low-fat diet, in preventing heart disease or weight loss. America was told to drink things like low-fat milk and avoid cheese. Ironically, the obesity epidemic ensued in the same decade. Only until very recently, has there been a significant paradigm shift in the belief that fat is not to be feared, and that a low-carbohydrate diet has been more readily accepted as a way to help with weight-loss and body fat optimization. With that said, fats are not created equal. And there is a difference between good fats and bad fats.
Not All Fat Is Created Equal
Fat is a vital macronutrient that provides your body with energy; it helps transport vitamins and minerals and establishes the ability to create cell membranes.
There are certain types of fat you should incorporate into your diet and there are other types of fats that you should minimize and eat in moderation. Choosing high quality, natural, and wholesome foods or real foods, is key when choosing the fats, you should include in your everyday eating habits.
For example, peanut butter or nut butter is always a better choice, than processed or packaged foods, such as pop tarts or doughnuts, due to the unnaturally saturated fat, preservatives, and trans-fat contents. Nut butter is derived from a natural source with a minimal amount of processing and added ingredients. Real foods help keep your blood sugar stable, are more nutrient-dense, and help curb your appetite. Processed foods with refined sugars and simple fast-acting carbohydrates, will spike your blood glucose level, and turn those simple sugars, into body fat.
Good Fats Vs Bad Fats
The difference between good fats vs bad fats really comes down to the molecular structure of their content. There are three fatty acids, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated. Molecularly, fat is a long chain of carbon atoms that attract hydrogen. Chains with less hydrogen are considered ‘unsaturated’ and those that have more hydrogen are more ‘saturated’ in nature and classified as saturated fats.
What Kinds Of Fat Should You Include In Your Diet?
The term, healthy fats, usually refers to Monounsaturated Fats (MUFAS) and Polyunsaturated Fats (PUFAs). Healthy fats naturally exist in many of the foods you already eat, such as salmon, avocados, nuts, oysters, beef, and turkey. What makes these fats healthy, is their proven benefit on heart health by directly lowering bad or LDL cholesterol. By replacing bad fats, such as trans-fat and some saturated fats with good healthy fats rich in MUFAs and PUFAs, you will improve overall health by reducing total cholesterol levels and improving heart health. If you eat a plant-based diet, then you can add in some of the foods below, to ensure you’re getting quality fats throughout your day.
- Nuts (Almonds, Macadamia Nuts, Cashews, Peanuts)
- Nut Butter (Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, Sunflower Seed Butter, Cashew Butter)
- Healthy Oils (Butter, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, Avocado Oil)
- Chia Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Flaxseed
The Good Fats
MUFAs are fatty acids with the least amount of hydrogen and known to be ‘good fat’. MUFAs come from foods such as nuts, olives, avocados, and fish. MUFAs can help control hunger levels and reduce cholesterol levels. They can also help your body burn more body fat.
Polyunsaturated fats are a combination of both good fats and bad fats. Cooking oil such as corn oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil, are all common examples of essential polyunsaturated fats. PUFAs typically stay liquid whether in a warm or cold room temperature. These fats are essential and needed for normal biological functions, such as blood clotting, muscle contraction, and controlling inflammation.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as EFAs. These fatty acids are composed of two crucial components eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have been found to have positive effects on inflammation, decreasing oxidative stress, and enhancing recovery [R] Studies have shown that Omega-3s may have a vast amount of health benefits, linked to brain health, heart health, joint pain, and anti-aging benefits.
The body requires EFAs for optimal health but cannot make these essential fatty acids on its own. EFAs are ‘essential’ meaning, these types of fats must be consumed in your diet from foods such as avocados, salmon, and other seafoods or by a dietary supplement, such as Krill Oil. The human body requires both groups of EFAs (omega-3 and omega-6) to survive. The typical modern-day diet, is much higher in Omega-6 fatty acids than Omega-3, making supplementation critical to your overall health.
Omega 6 Fatty Acids
Omega 6 fatty acids are another type of essential PUFA found in vegetable oil, nuts, and seeds. Like Omega-3, Omega-6 plays a crucial role in brain health, heart health, stimulating hair growth, regulating metabolism, and providing several additional health benefits.
The Goodish Fat
Saturated fats are very common amongst a typical American diet. Saturated fats are solid at room temperatures, such as butter, coconut milk, and the fat found in a piece of bacon or in prime rib. The problem with saturated fat is the common misconception, that dietary saturated fat is harmful to your health when in reality there’s no evidence that proves saturated fat is actually bad for you. If you were to see a high amount of saturated fat on a nutrition label, you’d probably consider that food to be bad for you, right? Wrong. Why is that?
Traditional thought and research suggested that saturated fats had a negative impact on cholesterol levels, however current studies suggest that saturated fat, is actually not all that bad.
According to a meta-analysis of 21 different studies conducted by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, there has been no conclusive evidence found that dietary saturated fat, is associated or linked with an increased risk of coronary heart disease, or cardiovascular disease [R].
Saturated fat is a sensitive subject. Despite new research, the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead.
What Kinds Of Fat Should You Minimize?
The Bad Fats
Trans-fats are man-made fats and a large contributor to the belief and ideology that fat, makes you fat. Especially prevalent in the mid-century throughout the 1990’s trans-fat could be found in foods such as vegetable oils, margarines, and shortening. It’s by far the worst type of dietary fat and is made through a process called hydrogenation that solidifies healthy fats, by transforming them with more hydrogen. By eating foods rich in trans-fat, your body increases the amount of harmful Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL) and decreases the production of beneficial High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Good news for you, as of 2015 the FDA officially removed the GRAS “Generally recognized as safe” status from trans-fat, and has now been officially banned in the U.S. Food manufacturers have been given until June 2018 to comply and remove all trans-fat from as an ingredient and smaller food companies until July 2019. For now, it’s your responsibility to read nutrition labels and stay away from trans-fat [R].
What Are The Best Fats? Takeaway
A healthy balanced diet should consist of healthy fats, such as MUFAs and PUFAs. These types of fats are commonly found in the foods you already eat such as avocados, nuts, fish, and cooking oil. Just remember that fat is not the enemy. Fat is a vital macronutrient. It provides your body with energy; helps transport vitamins and minerals and establishes the ability to create cell membranes. Your body needs fat, so severely restricting it, even if you’re trying to lose weight, is never a good idea. If you’re buying non-fat or low-fat foods, then STOP. Remember, fat does not make you fat and you have to stop thinking it does. That being said, to all your Ketoers, too much fat is also not healthy. Just because fat does not make you fat, does not mean you should eat a pound of sour cream and cheese on top of your eggs. Find an optimal balance and of healthy fats to include in your diet.