Why Eating Fat Keeps You Healthy

Making Sense of Dietary Fat

Fats have received a bad rap for years. Consuming fat has been blamed for causing obesity, increased cholesterol and health problems.   

Many nutritionists and doctors have been on the low-fat diet band wagon as the answer to weight loss and managing health issues. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Similar to the misinformation surrounding carbohydrate restriction, fats have been lumped into the bad food group category for too long. 

This article will shed light on why fats are important to eat every day for good health. 

Our Body Needs Fat

healthy fat
Healthy Fats are Essential for Optimal Health. Westend61/Getty Images

Fats are one of the three macronutrients required for the body to function at an optimum level. That means a large percentage is required to maintain good health.

“According to the Dietary Reference Intakes published by the USDA 20% - 35% of calories should come from fat.”  The purpose of fat in our body is for growth and development, energy, vitamin absorption, protection of our organs, and maintaining cell membranes. 

Understanding the important role fats play in daily food intake defines why it should not be removed from our nutrition. Fats are an important source of energy and relied upon during our workouts. Fats also contain active molecules influencing how muscles respond to insulin and control response to inflammation.

Good Fats Keep the Body Healthy

Healthy Fats
Salmon is a Rich Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. MaXx Images/Getty Images

Comprehensive research shows the total amount of fat in the diet isn’t linked with weight or disease. Studies have revealed it's the type of fat and the total calories in the diet that really matters. 

Good fats keep the body healthy while bad fats promote high cholesterol and health issues. All fats are not created equal and tossing out the bad and keeping the good is necessary to keep us healthy. 

With all the “don’t eat fat” hype, we have stopped consuming the good fats beneficial to our heart and overall health. While choosing healthier fats is better for your heart, when it comes to your waistline, all fats have about the same number of calories.

Paying attention to portion control and total fat intake will not only help with weight loss but also promote a longer and healthier life. 

The Good Fats

Good Fats
Good Fats are Good for You. Brian Leatart,Photolibrary/Getty Images

Good fats are known as unsaturated or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Some health benefits of unsaturated good fats include lowered blood cholesterol levels, reduced inflammation and stabilized heart rhythms. Healthy fats are predominately found in foods from plants like olive and vegetable oils, nuts and seeds and are liquid at room temperature. There are two types of unsaturated fats:

  • Monounsaturated fat: Also known as the heart-healthy fats are liquid at room temperature but solidify when refrigerated. Olive oil is probably at the top of the good mono-fat list. High concentrations can also be found in olives; avocados; hazelnuts; almonds; Brazil nuts; cashews; sesame seeds; pumpkin seeds; and olive, canola, and peanut oils.
  • Polyunsaturated fat: Well known for their role in reducing overall blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Omega 3 fatty acids are an infamous polyunsaturated fat shown to provide heart health benefits. Food sources include fatty fish like salmon, trout, catfish, mackerel, and also flaxseeds and walnuts. It is recommended to obtain Omega 3 fatty acids from food sources rather than supplements and to eat 2 servings of fatty fish each week.  

The Bad Fats

The Bad Fats
Bad Fats are Bad for Your Health. Still Images, Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

Bad fats are known as saturated or Trans fats and increase the risk of disease in the human body. There has been much controversy and fueled debates over the subject of saturated fat. Chronic studies have concluded,“cutting back on saturated fat can be good for health if people replace saturated fat with good fats, especially, polyunsaturated fats.”  At the very least, saturated fats should be eaten sparingly. There are two types of bad fats:

  • Saturated fat: linked to increased blood cholesterol level, clogged arteries, and heart disease. Saturated fats are found in animal sources like red meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, eggs and vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature like palm oils. The “American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fats to just 7% of total calories.”
  • Trans fat: The very bad of saturated fat and is made by heating liquid vegetable oils in a process called hydrogenation. This process creates a fake food result and unnaturally gives food products a longer shelf life. Hydrogenation turns what should be liquid into a solid food product such as margarine. Trans fats are highly used in restaurants and the food industry for frying, baked goods, pastries, processed snack foods, and margarine. The “American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting trans fat to less than 2 grams per day.”

     

Sources:

Harvard School of Public Health, Fats and Cholesterol: Out with the Bad, In with the Good, 2015

National Academy of Science, Dietary Reference Intakes Macronutrients, 2002-2005

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