Fats are a macronutrient that are NEEDED in your diet to help various functions of the body. These functions include:
- prolonged energy for the body
- vitamin absorption (especially vitamins A,D,E and K as they are fat soluble)
- control blood sugars
- improve nerve function
- boost immune system
- and being that the brain is made up primarily of fat and cholesterol, fat is essential for a healthy brain.
Unfortunately, fats were once thought to be terrible for the body. The mid 80s and into the 90s saw the low-fat craze that some still worship today. This leads to over consumption of carbohydrates and additives to make the low fat food taste better. The carbohydrates are then over consumed without being used for energy and are put into our human storage centers (aka body fat). No, fats are not the problem. Sometimes however, picking the right kind of fats are a little tricky.
When thinking about fats, we can view a ranking of the best choices to be consumed and which fats are best to stay away from. This will be discussed further down in the article. The three types of fats that will be discussed are unsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Unsaturated fats can also be broken down into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Let’s take a look at each fat so we understand more about them.
Type: Liquid at room temperature
Examples: (plant sources) Avocados, olive oil, canola oil (not my favorite, but if nothing else….), peanuts, nuts and nut butters
Info: Monounsaturated fats are derived from plant sources. This allows for digestion to be easier on the body and these fats are used for energy more efficiently than a solid fat. Unsaturated fats are also have health benefits, as they are great for reducing cholesterol. HDLs (good cholesterol) are increased throughout the body. HDL molecules are giant fat transport units. That means they carry fat more efficiently and allow fat to be used as an energy source quickly. They also help reduce LDLs (bad cholesterol). This is done as the HDLs recycle the LDLs back to the liver to be used for energy.
Type: Liquid at room temperature
Examples: (plant and fish sources) Soybean Oil, Corn Oil, Sunflower oil, Fish (salmon, mackerel, herring, trout)
Info: Similar to monounsaturated fats. However the chemical compound is slightly less stable so whatever the food source; the fresher, the better. In polyunsaturated fats we also see Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. These compounds reduce inflammation in the body in the same manner as HDLs discussed above.
Type: Solid at room temperature
Examples: (animal sources) Meat (beef, lamb, pork), Dairy, Coconut and palm oils
Info: It was once thought that saturated fats were the killer of the American diet. Yes, saturated fats should be eaten less than unsaturated fats. But, in moderation, they do serve some usefulness. Saturated fats possibly increase the amount of free testosterone throughout the body. This can aid one in becoming stronger and recover faster. Another thing to think about with saturated fats is that they can be sorted into medium chain and long chain fatty acids. Medium chain fatty acids (coconut and palm oils) are shorter and therefore do not need to go through the same processes as long chain fatty acids. Medium chain fats can go right to the liver as an energy source, while long chain fatty acids have a longer breakdown and process. Throughout this process some of the fatty acid is sent to our storage centers (body fat).
Examples: Margarines and Shortenings – commonly found in baked goods and fried foods
Info: Trans fats are created through a process called hydrogenation, which makes oils less likely to spoil. These fats are hard to digest for the body. They are seen as a saturated fat, but cannot be broken down the same way as a normal fat molecule and are stored in the body without ever being used for energy. Therefore it is almost as if a trans fat (cant be broken down) is similar to a piece of plastic (not biodegradable). Another important thought to consider with trans fats, is that they are also not always seen in the nutrition tables of foods they’re in. If a food item has less than .5g per serving, than it can be written as 0g. Therefore always look to see that the words, “hydrogenated…..oil” or “partially hydrogenated…..oil” are NOT part of the ingredients list.
THE FAT HIERARCHY
Monounsaturated→ Medium Chain Fatty Acids (saturated fats) → Polyunsaturated→ Saturated (mainly long chain fatty acids)→→→→ Trans Fats
Listed above are all the types of dietary fats, in order of how often they should be consumed. Monounsaturated fats and medium chain fatty acids are used the quickest by the body for energy. Following closely behind are polyunsaturated fats. What should be used in very small quantities are saturated fats. And then way, way, wayyyyy off in the distance are trans fats. They have no use and are not to be eaten.
Remember eat your fats. They should take up around 30-35% of the calories in your diet. But just make sure to be picky about which fats you consume.