When it comes to fats, there is a lot of confusion about which fats are good to eat and which ones are problematic. We’ve all heard that we should avoid a high-sugar, high-fat diet. But on the other hand, you’ve probably heard that coconuts and nuts are high in fat, but they are ok to eat.
So what is the real story with fats?
Basically, polyunsaturated fats and trans fats are bad, while saturated fats and monounsaturated fats are good.
Foods with polyunsaturated fats are not good for you because they are made up of unstable molecules. Chemically, polyunsaturated fats are vulnerable to oxidation — the process whereby oxygen in other food molecules or the air or in the frying process attaches to the food and renders it rancid.
To understand oxidation, think about when you cut open an apple and put it on the counter. The part that is exposed to air becomes oxidized and turns brown. When this happens to polyunsaturated fats, this rancid, brownish, oxidized fat affects all of the other cells it comes in contact with, breaking down other cells’ membranes. Scientists believe oxidation is responsible for many diseases such as heart disease, cancer, signs of aging and more.
Types of Polyunsaturated Fats:
That’s why foods that are fried in vegetable oil — such as French fries, potato chips, crackers and more — should be avoided. Better if fried in coconut oil.
Another type of fat to avoid are trans fats, which are found in processed foods, especially baked goods. Trans fats are made when hydrogen is bubbled into fat to make the oil softer at room temperature. This creates unnatural fats that are stickier than normal fats and may cause fatty deposits in the blood vessels and raise your LDL cholesterol (the bad one) and lower your HDL (the good one), which may lead to certain cancers. Watch out for trans fats such as hydrogenated palm, soybean and cottonseed oil often found in chips, cakes, frostings, cookies, desserts, artificial cheeses, margarine and shortening.
What are the Good Fats?
However, there are many other kinds of fats (saturated, monounsaturated) are not only safe to eat, but also provide many nutrients that your body needs.
For example, did you know that 50 percent of our cell membranes are made up of saturated fats? If we don’t eat enough saturated fats, our cell walls become soft and begin to “leak.” Saturated fats have been shown to have a positive effect in many areas, including energy improvement, weight loss, cancer prevention, inflammation reduction, help with calcium absorption and more, and they are known to protect the liver from the toxic effects of alcohol, drugs and toxins; and support the immune system.
Here are some examples of fats that are good for you.
- Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are called “essential fatty acids” because they are necessary for the body’s functioning, but they cannot be made by the body, so it’s essential that you eat them as part of your diet. They are useful in decreasing inflammation, enhancing immunity and improving your depression and mood.Sources of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Nuts contain monounsaturated fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids, which help lower your LDL, the bad fat that oxidizes easily. And nuts have been shown to help heart function as well. In fact, a 2015 study in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that a handful of mixed nuts eaten every day reduces mortality by 20 percent.
Sources of Nuts
- Peanuts (actually a legume)
- Macadamia nuts
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is a saturated fat that has many health benefits. It can help with weight loss because it contains medium-chain fatty acids that are metabolized differently. It can also improve skin health and may improve symptoms from Alzheimer’s disease.
- Clarified Butter (Ghee)
Clarified butter is great for cooking at any temperature because it oxidizes less during the heating process.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil is a major component of the Mediterranean diet and helps prevent inflammation, heart disease, hypertension and cancer. Use only on low-temperature settings for cooking, however.
- Flesh Sources (Beef, lamb, pork)
Flesh sources such as beef, lamb and pork are other good sources of fat. However, it’s important that you eat only grass-fed meat because if you consume regular meat, the animals were probably fed soy and corn, which creates oils that are more polyunsaturated and more likely to result in oxidation.Want to learn more about good and bad fats? Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, and Katie Bogaard, a naturopathic practitioner, will be presenting a free lecture entitled, “Choosing the Right Sugars & Fats,” at the Northbrook Public Library on Thursday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. Be there!