Fat is an important nutrient for good health, and we all need fat in our diet to stay healthy and alive. Fats play many different roles in your body – providing you with calories and energy, helping your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) and helping your body grow and develop properly. However, the type and amount of fat you eat is important. While you need to consume fats to stay healthy, too much can be bad for you. Also, fats such as the saturated and trans fats may increase your risk of developing heart disease and should be limited.
The main three different kinds of fat in your foods can be described as follows:
The good or unsaturated fats: These are mostly the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Monounsaturated fats are found in foods such as avocados, nuts and seeds (cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts), vegetable oils (canola, olive, sesame, safflower, sunflower). Polyunsaturated fats are found in foods such as fish oils or fatty fish (salmon, herring, trout, mackerel), vegetable oils (canola, flaxseed, soybean, corn, sunflower) as well as nuts and seeds (cashews, almonds, pecans, peanuts).
The bad or saturated fats: These are the kinds of fats that can raise LDL (low density lipoprotein) or “bad” cholesterol levels and increases your risk for heart disease. Foods such as lard, shortening, coconut oil, palm kernel oil, animal foods (beef, chicken, pork, lamb, veal), and dairy products (whole milk, butter, cheese) are all sources of saturated fats.
The ugly or trans fats: These are the kinds of fats that have gone through chemical processing known as “partial hydrogenation.” In other words, the liquid oil has been transformed into a solid fat. Trans fats have also been shown to raise LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels. In addition, trans fats can also lowers HDL (high density lipoprotein) or “good” cholesterol, which is another risk factor for heart disease. Trans fats are used by food processing companies to improve the texture, shelf life, and flavor of foods. Although the use of trans fat is declining, they can still be found in most commercially fried foods, margarines, and baked products (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, pastries) and many other snack foods.
In this article, we will be talking about the good fats that you can include in your diet regularly. So, here they are:
Flaxseed oil is perhaps one of the best source of vegetarian-friendly Omega-3 essential fatty acids, “good” fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains approximately 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s. This healthy fats is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Flaxseed also contain lignans, which have plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed oil can be added to many foods in small quantity and can be added to salad instead of the chemical-laced dressing you currently use. Finally, flaxseed is rich in both the soluble and insoluble fibers. Having ground flaxseed in your meal (added to salad, baked into muffins or mixed with breakfast cereal) generally helps to increases satiety – that feeling of fullness after eating. This feeling of fullness can prevent you from overeating, and thus helps with weight control. But its benefits for weight-loss doesn’t stop there. Flaxseed oil, and especially the ground meal can help to slow down the digestion of your food thereby minimizing blood sugar spikes and the subsequent insulin release. Some very preliminary evidence suggests that flaxseed oil may have weight loss benefits as well. This is not surprising – regular consumption of flaxseed oil increases thermogenesis (fat-burning), and also encourages your body to store a kind of flab called brown fat that helps your body torch fat.
Avocados contain naturally good fats from the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – the heart-healthy kind that actually lowers bad cholesterol. Avocados have risen in popularity in the past decade, and that has prompted many restaurants to offer more options and menus with avocados. Avocados are cholesterol and sodium free plant food and can be great substitute for saturated or trans fats in your favorite dishes. Try substituting avocados for butter, margarine, or cream cheese. You can even replace the mayo on your sandwich with healthy avocado slices. Avocado’s rich fat content makes it easier to absorb the fat soluble vitamins. Avocados contain phytosterols, antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids. This mix of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory characteristics helps to ease arthritis symptoms. A study titled “Hass Avocado Composition and Potential Health Effects”, published in the May 2013 edition of Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, states that “Avocados also have a diverse range of other nutrients and phytochemicals that may have beyond cholesterol vascular health benefits. In particular, avocado’s potassium and lutein that may help promote normal blood pressure and help to control oxidative/inflammatory stress, respectfully. The consumption of avocados with salads or salsa increases the bioavailability of carotenoids multi-fold, which may add to the potential health benefits.” This is a good reason to love your avocados!
Olive oil, particularly the extra virgin type is an essential component of the Mediterranean diet, which has been shown to have numerous health benefits. Olive oil is one of the most recommended type of fat for a healthy lifestyle because of the rich content of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Olive oil contains vitamins E and K, and is loaded with powerful antioxidants. In addition, the oil have been found to lower total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. According to Mayo Clinic, some research shows that monounsaturated fatty acids may also benefit insulin levels and blood sugar control, which can be especially helpful for type 2 diabetes. Cooking with heart-healthy olive oil and using it for salad dressing may cut stroke risk, according to a research published online in Neurology. The research showed that seniors who regularly used this healthy monounsaturated fat had a 41% lower risk of stroke compared to their counterparts who never used olive oil.
While the name “fatty fish” may sound unappealing, they are the healthiest and most delicious foods from the sea. Oily fish such as salmon, herring, tuna, sardines, mackerel, pilchards and trout are loaded with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. American Heart Association has recommends that people eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week. All three types of omega-3 fats are important to have in your diet – ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
These fatty acids helps to reduce inflammation that can damage your blood vessels (slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque) and lead to heart disease. In addition, omega-3 fatty acids may decrease total triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease risks of stroke, reduce heart failure risk, and may improve learning ability in children. Research has also shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), which can lead to sudden death.
Nuts are among the most nutritionally dense foods you can eat, and they are incredibly healthy. Most nuts are high in healthy fats and fiber, and are also great sources of plant-based protein. Research shows nut eaters are generally thinner, have a reduced risk of heart disease and less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Nuts are also high in vitamin E, as well as magnesium and phosphates. The American Heart Association recommends eating four servings of unsalted nuts a week. Select raw or dry-roasted nuts rather than those cooked in oil. Even though most of the fat contained in nuts are healthy, they should be consumed in moderation. A handful of nuts or a tablespoon of nut spread can be substituted for those saturated fats found in dairy products, red meat and eggs.
Walnuts, pecans, almonds, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts and pistachios and many other nuts are quite heart-healthy. In addition, almond or cashew butter are very popular and delicious substitute for margarine. Although nut oils lack the fiber found in whole nuts, they are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. Walnut oil is the highest in omega-3s. Nut oils are very healthy, but also contain a lot of calories, so remember that moderation is important. Also, some nuts contain saturated fats as well. Lastly, in addition to cooking, nut oils can be used as salad dressing. According to the study “Health Benefits of Nut Consumption”, published in the July 2010 edition of Nutrients, “Nuts are energy dense foods rich in bioactive macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals. The unique composition of nuts is critical for their health effects. Indeed, there are consistent evidences from epidemiologic and clinical studies of the beneficial effects of nut consumption on risk of CHD, including sudden cardiac death, as well as on diabetes in women, and on major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors.” So remember that eating a handful of nuts every day could help you live longer.