Fats Are NOT the Villain
Fats are an important part of a healthy diet. They keep our body working in top form. Some of the beliefs we hold about fats, turn out to be false. With so much information available to us, it’s hard to know which oils and fats are really better for us. As more research is conducted, new information questions our beliefs about food and makes the topic a bit confusing.
This week’s Real Food Experience Challenge focuses on adding healthy fats and oils to your diet. Each of the contributors; Christina at Juggling Real Food and Real Life, Gaye at Calm.Healthy.Sexy, and KC at The Kitchen Chopper are discussing different aspects of this topic. We’ll be sharing on our Real Food Experience Facebook page too. I’m not an expert in nutrition, but like you, I want to make good food choices. Here’s what I’ve found to be true about fats and oils.
Your Body Needs Fat
- Fat is important for proper brain function and metabolism.
- Fat enables your body to transport, store and absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. These vitamins help to regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood vessel constriction, blood clotting, and the nervous system.
- Fat provides insulation and a protective cover for vital organs.
- Consuming fat keeps you fuller. When you eat fats as part of your meal, they slow down absorption so that you can go longer without feeling hungry
- Fats provide a concentrated source of energy in your diet.
- 20%-35% of your daily calories should come from fats.
Basic Types of Fats
This is the exception to the rule. This is the Villain! Trans fats are uncommon in nature and are created artificially by forcing hydrogen in unsaturated fats, a process called hydrogenation. This process creates a solid oil without any of the health benefits of the original source. Trans fats are common in processed foods under the name “partially hydrogenated oils.” These types of artificial fats should be avoided. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. It is also linked with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Current dietary guidelines consider unsaturated fats “healthy”. These include vegetable oils; fish oils, avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. They are considered healthier because they do not raise the bad LDL cholesterol levels, a key factor in heart health.
Considered less “healthy” because they have been shown to raise LDL cholesterol levels. These are fats are those found in animal fats and tropical oils such as coconut oil. Dairy and cheese contains saturated fats.
For decades, we’ve been told that the fats in dairy were bad for you. The food industry has created a whole line of nonfat and low fat dairy products that claim to be healthier than the original. New data is emerging showing that saturated fats, including those in dairy, may not be so bad for you after all. The focus of this article is on this new information.
Saturated Fats Aren’t the Villain
Saturated fats have long been characterized as a “less healthy” fat. They are associated with heart disease because they can increase LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. But not all saturated fats are the same. Although certain types remain linked to an increased risk of heart disease, others may actually be beneficial to your health.
New research has shown that the chain length of saturated fats is an indicator of their healthfulness. Medium-chain length triglycerides (MCT), like those found in palm and coconut oil, are actually used by your body for energy. Unlike most fatty acids that have a long chain length, MCT go straight to the liver from the digestive tract, where they are used as a quick source of energy. Studies have found that these MCTs can help boost your metabolism too.
Additionally, saturated fats are:
- The preferred fuel for your heart, and also used as a source of fuel during energy expenditure
- Useful antiviral agents (caprylic acid)
- Effective as an anticaries, antiplaque and anti-fungal agent (lauric acid)
- Useful to actually lower cholesterol levels (palmitic and stearic acids)
- Modulators of genetic regulation and prevent cancer (butyric acid)
Low-Fat and Non-Fat isn’t the answer
For decades, there has been a campaign to avoid saturated fats, especially in dairy, and convert to eating low fat and nonfat versions. A growing number of experts are now arguing that it’s healthier to eat and drink dairy products with all the fat left in.
When companies remove fat, they have to use more sugar, salt, and additives to make the food taste better. A recent UK study found that 10% of diet foods (nonfat or low fat foods) contain the same or more calories than the regular stuff, and that 40% had more sugar.
Other research shows that consuming full-fat dairy may help reduce your risk of diabetes, cancer, obesity, and heart disease.
Whole Foods are Best
There isn’t any one right answer to whether something is good for you or not. But the best source for healthy foods will always be from the whole foods themselves. Processed foods and chemically altered products will never be able to nourish the body as nature intended. To improve your diet remember these key points:
- Add naturally sourced fats to your diet.
- Avoid foods processed to be low fat or non-fat
- Avoid hydrogenated or chemically derived oils
- Hydrogenated oils where ones where oxygen has been added to form a solid oil (Crisco)
- Artificial oils (margarine)
- Eliminate Trans Fats from your diet completely.
- Eat a well-balanced diet
The information provided here is just a taste of some of the new research out there. I am not a nutritionist or licensed professional. I firmly believe that the key to good health is good food. It’s as nature intended. But, do your own research and make up your own mind.
What are your thoughts on saturated fats and the information available? Let me know in the comments.