The topic of fats has contained lots of misinformation. Many people are left wondering what are the good fats and bad fats?
Fats play a vital role in maintaining health and are essential in the diet. But, there are bad fats that are not beneficial to our health. So, let’s talk about the different types of fats and clear up some confusion.
Classification of the different types of dietary fat
Fats are classified into 3 different categories according to their degree of saturation. Saturation refers to the ability of fat to combine with other substances such as oxygen.
Fats can be saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. All fats contain a combination of all 3 fatty acids but are classified according to the highest type of fat.
Saturated fatty acids are the most stable fat. Saturated fats contain no double bonds in the molecule thus it is less reactive with oxygen. The saturated property of saturated fats makes them the best fats for cooking.
Monounsaturated fats contain one unsaturated double bond.
Polyunsaturated fats contain 2 or more double unsaturated bonds. The unsaturated bonds make them less stable and more reactive with oxygen.
All the different types of dietary fat are necessary and play vital roles in the body. A general guideline is to have 30% of your calories in the diet come from fats. Of that 30%, a general guideline is to have 30% from saturated fats, 10% from polyunsaturated fats, and 60% from monounsaturated fats. Of course, this will vary according to bio-individuality as everybody is different.
Of the 3 types of dietary fats, saturated fats are the most stable and do not go rancid easily. Saturated fats are the best fats for cooking as they are less prone to oxidation.
Saturated fats are usually solid or semisolid at room temperature. They are non-essential fats as the body can make these.
Dietary sources of saturated fats include:
- Animal flesh fats from pastured animals such as grass-fed beef, dark chicken meat, lamb
- Whole raw milk, cheese, yogurt, goats cheese
- Butter from grass-fed cows, ghee
- Cold-pressed unrefined coconut oil
Monounsaturated fats are quite stable and do not get rancid easily. They are liquid at room temperature and are considered nonessential as the body can make these.
Foods with monounsaturated fats include:
- cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
Monounsaturated oils should be stored in a dark or opaque bottle to prevent light from oxidizing the fats. Monounsaturated fats will oxidize at high temperatures. Thus, it should only be used for cooking on low or a quick saute.
Polyunsaturated fats are the least stable of all the fats and are very delicate oils. They are liquid at room temperature and should always be stored in a dark glass bottle in the fridge.
Polyunsaturated fats are damaged by light, heat, and oxygen. These polyunsaturated oils must be cold-pressed. Polyunsaturated fats are the worst oils for cooking as they are easily oxidized by heat.
Of the polyunsaturated fats, there are two essential fatty acids. Essential means the body cannot make them so they must be supplied by the diet. The essential fatty acids are Omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) and Omega 6 fatty acids (linoleic acid).
Both these essential fatty acids are converted into hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins help to manage inflammation in the body.
The optimal ratio and balance between the essential omega 3 fats and omega 6 fats should be 1:1. In the modern western world, most people are consuming way too many omega 6 fatty acids.
Foods with omega 3 fats include:
- fish oil or fatty fish such as salmon, herring and mackerel
- cold-pressed flaxseed oil or flaxseeds
- wheat germ
- hemp seeds
- chia seeds
Foods with omega 6 fats include:
- cold-pressed sunflower oil
- cold-pressed sesame oil or sesame seeds
- cold-pressed safflower oil
- cold-pressed peanut oil or peanuts
- cold-pressed black currant seed oil
- cold-pressed evening primrose oil
Providing the body with omega 6 fats and omega 3 fats in the right ratios is essential for optimal health.
Benefits of fats and the various roles of fats in the body include:
- Fats are an excellent source of slow-burning energy for long-lasting steady energy levels.
- Fats make up every cell membrane which allows for nutrients in and wastes out.
- Fats provide a protective lining for the organs of your body
- Fats are required for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Fats also make food taste good so be sure to get healthy fats in your daily diet. Especially the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fats which are great for weight loss.
What are the bad fats?
Refined vegetable oils, hydrogenated fats, and trans fats are the worst types of fats.
Bad fats that should be avoided include:
- refined canola oil
- refined cottonseed oil
- refined soybean oil.
- partially hydrogenated, and hydrogenated fats
- foods fried in refined oils
These fats/oils are cheap and eaten way too often in the general population’s diet. They can be found in so many of the fried, processed, packaged foods that are being consumed today such as:
- store-bought salad dressings
- dips such as hummus often contain refined canola oil
All the vegetable oils that are in clear plastic bottles are unhealthy polyunsaturated
Polyunsaturated oils are very delicate. Exposure to heat and light results in oxidized and rancid oils.
The processing that refined vegetable oils go through results in them being unfit to consume. It is the processing of fats that differentiates healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
Hydrogenated fats and partially hydrogenated fats are also to be avoided. They are highly processed and are most commonly found as margarine and shortening. These bad fats are used in many baked goods and packaged foods.
There are absolutely no benefits to consuming hydrogenated fats and refined vegetables. These are the bad fats that should be eliminated from the diet. Be sure to read your labels as you will find hydrogenated fats and refined vegetable oils in many packaged foods.
Vegetable oils are the worst oils for cooking and should not be heated or used for baking and frying. Vegetable oils are unstable and oxidize when heated which creates free radicals that damage body tissues.
The best fats are found in nature in whole food forms such as nuts, seeds, fish, raw dairy, and grass-fed animal meat.
For weight loss, it is best to eat an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet low in saturated fats.
Omega 3 fats and fish oil is amazing for weight loss and reducing inflammation. So be sure to get lots of omega 3 fats into your diet!
For more information on fats I recommend reading The Big Fat Surprise by Nina Teicholz and Know Your Fats by Mary Enig
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