(NOTE: This post was originally published on my first blog, but the information is still relevant and needed to be shared here!)
We all know the truth: eating fat makes you fat, low-fat diets are the best way to lose weight, yada…yada…yada (like my Seinfeld reference there?!).
On the contrary, fat is essential to life. We need fat for our bodies to function properly. Without it, all of our bodily systems suffer. For instance, fats serve as insulation for the body, aid in nerve transmission, vitamin absorption (aka fat-soluble vitamins), and hormone production.
Ready? Let’s start our discovery of the amazing kinds, properties, and real-food example of fats!
-Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Composed of either one or more double bonds between carbon atoms, these fats are generally unstable and have a short shelf life. Most of the time, they are liquid at room temperature. There are two categories of unsaturated fats – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
-Monounsaturated Fatty Acids
These fats contain a single double bond between two carbon atoms. They are full of health benefits that support all of our bodily functions. As a result, aim to eat more monounsaturated fats than polyunsaturated fats. Examples include olive oil, most nuts, and avocados.
-Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids
Containing a double bond between two or more sets of carbon atoms, polyunsaturated fats can be further split into the essential fatty acids category, made up of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Of the two, omega-3 fatty acids are much more health-promoting, as they reduce blood clotting, dilate blood vessels, reduce inflammation, aid in the development of brain and eye health, and reduce the risk of developing mental illness. There are three types of omega-3 fats: ALA, EPA, and DHA. Of the three, EPA and DHA are most important. ALA is the precursor to EPA and DHA, but the conversion rate is extremely low (<3% of ALA is converted to EPA and/or DHA by the body). Real food sources of omega-3 include egg yolks, tuna, salmon, cod, crab, shrimp, oysters, and other seafood options. Aim for .5-1.8 grams of DHA and/or EPA per day.
Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are often overconsumed in the Standard American Diet, contributing to inflammation in the body. It is best to limit our intake of omega-6 fatty acids, and aim to keep our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 at 1:1 or 1:2. Most people have a ratio of 1:20 or 1:50! Most all vegetable oils are extremely high in omega-6 fats, which is why I recommend avoiding such oils (like peanut, canola, corn, soy, vegetable, safflower, and cottonseed oils are examples of inflammatory omega-6 fats). Other sources of omega-6 fatty acids include nuts and seeds; it’s best to limit our intake of nuts and seeds (especially if you have a tendency to eat a huge serving at a time…I would know nothing about that…)
-Saturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fats are so named because there are no double bonds between carbon atoms. All of the bonds are “saturated” with oxygen atoms, making them generally solid at room temperature. These fats have been demonized as terrible for our health for decades (after improper correlations drawn from a few studies back in the 1960s). But if you’ve seen the recent Time magazine cover featuring butter and eggs, you know that we are trying to change our thinking around saturated fat. It does not cause heart disease or contribute to inflammation as previously thought. On the contrary, our intake of polyunsaturated fats in the form of refined vegetable oils is the source of this inflammation. Therefore, there is no need to fear the butter or coconut oil anymore. As long as your saturated fat sources are coming from unrefined, organic, high quality sources, you will be just fine! Real food examples of saturated fatty acids include butter, ghee (clarified butter), coconut oil (my personal favorite!), palm oil, lard, tallow, eggs, meat, and seafood.
-Trans Fatty Acids
I saved the worst for last. Trans fats must be AVOIDED AT ALL COSTS. These fats are man-made and added to food products in order to make them shelf stable. These fats are extremely damaging to the heart and our body in general. However, food manufacturers are sneaky. They can list a product as containing 0 grams of trans fats if the product contains less than .5 grams per serving of trans fat. But even that little bit can add up and be extremely damaging. Instead, look at the ingredient label (which you should already be doing for every product!) and look for the words “partially hydrogenated,” which is code word for trans fats. Sources include packaged foods, chips, crackers, peanut butter (with added oils, NOT peanut butter with only two ingredients, peanuts and salt!), cakes, and margarine.
Let’s take a stop here for a quick rant on margarine. Margarine has been promoted are “heart-healthy,” when actually, it is made from inflammatory, refined oils that harm, not help, your heart! Why would margarine, which is made from chemicals and dyes in a food lab, be better for you than butter, which comes naturally from a cow (and is full of Vitamin A and K!)? My advice? Throw away those spray butters, spreads, vegetable oils, vegetable oil cooking sprays, and other fake butter products and replace them with REAL butter, olive oil spray, and coconut oil. This small change can make a huge difference!
I know – it’s a lot of information all at once, so I’ve complied a quick list of important items to remember:
Eat the majority of your fats from monounsaturated and saturated sources.
Avoid trans fats at all costs and limit your intake of omega-6 fats, especially from vegetable oils.
Do not eat margarine. Period.
Instead of mayo made with vegetable oils, search how to make your own (it’s pretty easy, actually) or try Primal Mayo (click here to order).
Don’t fear your egg yolks or avocado! I know I sure did back in my low-fat days. These foods are so healthy and full of vitamins and nutrients.
Throw away vegetable oils and vegetable oil sprays. Replace with coconut oil and olive oil.
Read your labels: refined vegetable oils and trans fats are in everything!
There you have it: a short overview of fats. If you take any first step on your journey towards real food, start by switching your fat sources. It will make a huge difference, yet is a small change that is pretty easy to make.
Need more information? See the following websites below:
PDF of Real Food Sources of Fats and Oils - this is an amazing resource to print out and take with you shopping (via balancedbites.com)
The Paleo Mom: Which Fats Should You Eat? (via thepaleomom.com)