What makes healthy fats so healthy?
By Gaby L., Lifestyle Consultant, Apple Valley
For the last few decades, we’ve heard how efficient it is to reduce the consumption of fat in our diet when we’re looking to lose those extra pounds, or even to have a healthy lifestyle. We’ve also been told it’s the best way to reduce our cholesterol levels, and that a low-fat diet equals a healthy diet. But is it all true?
First, we must know that fats are the most calorie dense macronutrient. One gram of fat equals 9 kcal (calories). Meanwhile, protein and carbohydrates contain 4 kcal per gram. The caloric density of fat does not mean that it is not a good choice for a healthy lifestyle. Did you know it helps us to absorb essential vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, E and K? Fat also provides us energy, supports cell function, helps to manage blood pressure, as well as many other benefits.
You’re going to find a lot of different fat sources at the market. We know it can be confusing to decipher which are considered “healthy” and which are considered “unhealthy”. So, how do we identify them?
Let’s start with the good fats, the unsaturated fats. There are two main types:
- Polyunsaturated fats: These help to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering LDL cholesterol, which is the type that clogs the arteries. It also regulates the body’s inflammatory processes, and reduces triglycerides, which is a fat found in blood. These types of fats are usually liquid at room temperature, mostly found in fatty fish, seeds, plant-based oils (with the exception of palm oil and coconut oil), and nuts. We know them better as Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Our body cannot make these itself, which is why it is highly important to incorporate through our diet.
We can find Polyunsaturated fats in:
- Flax seeds
- Sunflower seeds
- Corn oil
- Monounsaturated fats: These fats help with insulin and blood sugar levels, support the structure of the cells, help to absorb fat-soluble vitamins, and are involved in physiological processes like inflammation, wound healing, and blood clotting. They have a positive impact on cardiovascular health and like polyunsaturated fats, as they may lower LDL cholesterol (bad) and maintain good levels of HDL cholesterol (good). We can find them in plant-based foods, as well as meats, and they are usually liquid at room temperature and turn solid when chilled.
We can find Monounsaturated fats in:
- Olive oil
- Peanut butter
- Sesame oil
- Peanut oil
We can also find saturated fats in the market, which don’t necessarily fall into the “healthy” or “unhealthy” category, therefore it’s generally best to limit the amount of saturated fat we consume on a daily basis.
Saturated fats are also known as “solid fats”. They can increase our LDL cholesterol and may increase the risk for heart disease, which is why it’s better to limit the consumption. The American Heart Association recommends aiming to consume no more than 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fats.
We can find Saturated Fats in:
- Cured meats like salami and chorizo
- Whole milk
- Coconut oil
- Palm oil
For the last century, manufacturers have found ways to increase the shelf life of the products that we consume and add flavor stability to the foods we eat. They do this by manipulating fats with a process that is called hydrogenation, which turns vegetable liquid oils into solid fats by adding hydrogen atoms, also known as “trans fats”.
Trans fat can be harmful to the body, not only because it can increase LDL cholesterol (bad) and lower the HDL cholesterol (good), but because it also can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes. Trans fat is also linked to increased inflammation in the body, and do not provide any health benefits.
We can find Trans Fats in:
- Fried food, like french fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts
- Commercial bakery goods, such as cakes, cookies, and pies
- Stick margarine
- Microwave popcorn
- Non-dairy coffee creamer
- Frozen pizza
A small amount of fat is an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet. The USDA recommends keeping the consumption of this macronutrient between 20% – 30% of the calories that you consume in a day.
At Livea, we believe the key to a healthy lifestyle is moderation and portion control. Let’s enjoy healthy fats without restricting ourselves to the benefits it supplies!