It’s unfortunate that the term fat is viewed as something negative or unhealthy most of the time. In reality, healthy fats are very important for our overall health and shouldn’t be viewed as something to avoid.
There are both healthy fats and unhealthy fats in food products. Sometimes these fats are found naturally in a variety of foods. They can also be produced through altering fats with heat and chemicals through a manufacturing process. Understanding the difference between these fats is important for your health, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
Types of Fats
Dietary fats are fats from plant or animal. These fats are actually an energy source for the body and many of them should be eaten for your overall health. For a healthy brain, liver and heart, understanding the role of fat and how much you should eat is key. Like many things in life however, moderation is important, as too much of a good thing can easily become harmful.
Here are 5 types of dietary fats you are going to encounter, some of which are healthier for you than others.
- Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are those that primarily come from an animal. This includes all types of meats and dairy. It has long been believed that eating saturated fats will increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes. As high-meat diets like paleo become more popular however, studies are coming out that don’t support the theory that all saturated fats are bad. It is important to research this controversial fat yourself to come up with an educated opinion.
Here are a few sources with strong research contradicting the belief of saturated fats being dangerous:
The best way to come up with an educated opinion about saturated fats is seeing the studies for yourself and consulting with dieticians or doctors on both side of the argument. If you decide to change your diet and include saturated fats, keeping up with regular blood tests will show you if your bad cholesterol levels rise or not.
- Trans Fats
Trans fats are another common type of fat that is also hotly debated in the health and fitness world. There are two types of trans fats: natural trans fats and artificial trans fats. Natural trans fats can be found in some animal products along with saturated fats. Similarly to saturated fats, people usually recommend you avoid natural trans fats totally or don’t worry about them. Most health experts will agree that artificial trans fats can be dangerous in terms of health. Top sources of trans fats: Fast Food, Margarine and Baked Goods.
Artificial trans fats are created by combining hydrogen with vegetable oils in a specific manufacturing process. You will usually see these fats as partially hydrogenated oils in many common foods. These artificial trans fats are not natural and therefore already suspect when it comes to health. Studies also support than these artificial trans fats can increase the risk of heart disease. One such study can be found here by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition.
- Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats are found in different foods as well as oils. Doctors tend to agree that these fats, also referred to as MUFAs, are heart healthy and have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. You can find a study on that subject done by the AHA Science Advisory here. It is also widely believed that MUFAs can help those with type 2 diabetes. These fats can be found in healthy sources, like nuts, seeds, fish, avocado, olives, olive oil, sesame oil and peanut oil.
- Polyunsaturated fats
Polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, are most common in oil and plants. Similarly to the above monounsaturated fats, PUFAs are believed to reduce heart disease and is especially helpful for those with type 2 diabetes. Fatty fish and flaxseed oil are great sources of this fat.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are often recognized as being a healthy fat that most people lack in their diet. Omega-3 fats are a type of PUFA and believed to be the healthiest type of PUFA fat. Doctors also suggest that these fats lower blood pressure as well. Omega-3 fatty acids primarily come from oily fish though there are some plant sources as well. The body uses these fats from fish most efficiently however.
How Fat Affects Cholesterol
There are two types of cholesterol: low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is considered to be the bad cholesterol since it takes cholesterol from the liver. HDL is considered the good cholesterol since it takes cholesterol away from the body and back to the liver. High LDL increases the risk of heart disease while high levels of HDL with decrease the risk. When it comes to fats it is commonly believed that saturated and trans fats will raise LDL. You can find an excellent resource on what cholesterol does on this CSU website.
The subject of fat can be very, very complicated, especially when looking into contradicting research. Striving to eat a healthy diet with whole foods is one of the best way to ensure you are getting the healthy fats you need. Make an extra effort to eat more fish and plant-based fat sources, like coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil for cooking, and that will further help ensure you are getting the right fats. Each person’s needs are different, so keep your medical issues in mind and speak with your doctor if you are concerned about how fat can affect your heart, liver, cholesterol levels, etc.