It’s no secret that fats have a bad rap; but should they? We’ve enlisted the help of award-winning dietitian and author of Rocket Fuel — a power-packed cookbook for athletes and adventurers —Matthew Kadey, to help us face the fats once and for all. In his article, Matt give us the skinny on fats and helps us discern which are healthy and which we should avoid. Continue reading to learn more.
Fat. Just this very word once conjured up images of unhealthiness. Our aversion to fatty foods dates back to the 1950s when high-fat eating was broadcasted as an express ticket to clogged arteries. By now we’ve caught on that the low-fat craze was for the most part a disaster for our collective health and waistlines. That’s because many people simply swapped out fatty foods in their diets for edibles full of refined carbohydrates and simple sugars. Hardly a nutritional upgrade and a switch-a-roo that likely contributed to sky rocking levels of obesity and diabetes. Now health experts are doing a nutritional one-eighty on fat and have for the most part ended their war on wrongly maligned macronutrient. Fat is no longer considered a dietary boogeyman and you have a fat chance (pun intended) of achieving wonderful health without the right kinds in your diet. Here are a trio of fats that should be on your menu more often.
Ever since studies conducted on Greenland’s Inuit found that they have historically low rates of heart disease despite eating more whale blubber than fruits and vegetables, the research has piled up demonstrating that omega-3 fatty acids have significant health-boosting prowess. In particular, it’s the polyunsaturated long-chain omega-3 fats eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that have garnered the most accolades among scientists. Higher intakes of which have been linked to everything from improved brain functioning to reductions in blood pressure to better eye health to even less muscle pain in athletes. These fats are also essential for optimal infant development and may even lessen the damage in our bodies caused by air pollution. Why the overarching health benefits? Omega-3 fats sneak their way into our cell membranes and, in doing so, improving how chemical reactions occur. So if your brain is trying to conduct biological reactions that can fight off depression it’s the omega-3s which make it easier for this to occur. Another form of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in plant foods can be converted in the body into EPA and DHA, but conversion rates are not stellar so a direct dietary source of EPA and DHA are ideal. With that said, ALA may have its own independent heart-healthy powers.
It’s thought that we should be consuming an average of 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA a day, but few people reach this level.
Eat more: If you’re not ready to serve whale blubber for dinner tonight, you can reel-in omega-3 fats from more accessible fatty fish species such as sardines, wild salmon, tuna, mackerel, sablefish, herring and rainbow trout. You can also find lesser amounts of these omega fats in grass-fed meats, organic milk, omega-3 enhanced eggs and certain fortified foods. Walnuts, flax, hemp, chia and canola oil supply a source of plant-based ALA omega-3 fat.
Want to show your ticker some love? Make sure your daily menu includes a healthy portion of monounsaturated fat (MUFA), fats with a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. As one of the major lynchpins in the vaunted Mediterranean Diet, a number of research papers have found that consuming adequate amounts of MUFA including oleic acid can play an important role in lessening heart disease risk. They pull off this trick largely by improving cholesterol numbers including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol while simultaneously maintaining levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol. MUFA also work to decrease the amounts of harmful triglycerides circulating in our blood and enhance vascular functioning. Another important benefit of a MUFA-rich diet not to take lightly is that it can reduce the glycemic load of an eating plan and, in doing so, perhaps lower the chances of developing diabetes by improving blood sugar control. More good news: A Purdue University investigation found that adding a source of MUFA to veggie-based salads greatly increases the absorption of disease-thwarting fat-soluble antioxidants such as beta-carotene and lycopene found in items such as carrots and tomatoes. A side benefit of many MUFA containing foods is that they are also a source of other healthful compounds like antioxidant polyphenols and dietary fiber.
Eat more: Ideally, you want about 15 to 20 percent of your daily calories to hail from MUFAs. The best dietary sources include nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives, avocado (hello, avocado toast!) and various culinary oils such as olive, avocado, and almond.
Conjugated Linoleic Acid
It doesn’t get much press, but this up-and-coming omega-6 fat is one to take notice off. Some research papers suggest that higher intakes of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) could play a role in reducing the risk for certain cancers and also improving bone health. This might be partly attributed to the anti-inflammation role that that CLA plays in the body. Though study results are inconsistent, there is also some evidence that CLA can aid in the battle of the bulge by altering genes involved in fat accumulation and increasing insulin sensitivity. Hopefully, further research paints a clearer picture of how CLA impacts human health. Stay tuned!
Eat more: Until recently, CLA had all but disappeared from the grocery store. The main dietary sources of CLA are meat and dairy, but when animals are fed grain instead of pasture CLA levels in their products drop like an anvil. So if you have an appetite for CLA, source out meat and dairy that hails from animals which were provide pasture to feast on. For instance, you can now find brands of yogurt and butter made with milk produced from cows that were 100% grass-fed. You’ll also want to steer clear of fat-free milk and other dairy since any CLA is removed when the fat is stripped away.
The word on saturated fat
Sensational headlines screaming “Butter is Back” and “Bacon is the New Superfood” may have you thinking that saturated fat is no longer of concern. Did Julia Child—the original spokesperson for butter and foie gras—have it right all along? Sadly, it’s too good to be true. While saturated fat is not the massive health demon once believed (trans fats are worse), it’s still something best consumed with some restraint. A recent British Medical Journal study involving nearly 115,000 people found there was an 18% greater risk of heart disease among people consuming the highest amounts of saturated fats compared with those consuming the least, with palmitic acid found in animal fats like butter, red meat and whole milk showing the highest risk. Disease risk reduction was seen when palmitic acid was replaced with plant proteins or polyunsaturated fat. A separate Harvard investigation found that replacing about 5% of the saturated fat calories in a diet with polyunsaturated calories from items such as nuts and seeds can slash heart disease risk by 9% and the chances of death from heart woes by 13%. With that said, recent data has found that replacing saturated fat with processed carbs like white bread and sugar brings about no improved health measures.
At beast, certain forms of saturated fat like lauric acid in coconut oil and stearic acid in chocolate have a neutral impact on heart health. So the upshot is that it’s OK to enjoy the occasional slice of crispy bacon or butter slathered corn on the cob, but only do so if you’re eating greater quantities of other fats with research proven health-boosting potential.