NUTRITION, SUPPLEMENTS, TRAINING | Affiliate Supplements | 01/19/2023
Fat has been the “villain nutrient” ever since the 1940s. For decades, a “diet ban” was set in place for this nutrient, and low-fat diets were all the rage. However, this dietary change did not lead to healthier individuals. The reason behind that was as people were preoccupied with the calories of fat, they tended to ignore the healthy components of it. The fat-elimination diet cuts all fat without distinguishing the unhealthy from the healthy. As years passed, studies showed that some types of fats are innocent, while some are even necessary.
Confusion and misconceptions continue to surround the topic of fat today. In this article, we will uncover the truth about fat, diving into what fat really is, its different types, and its sources.
Fat is a common topic of discussion in our daily lives. But how much do we know about it? To uncover the nutritional truth of fat, let's start from the basics, what is fat?
Dietary fats are a macronutrient we obtain from food. Macronutrients are nutrients the body requires in significant quantities, which include carbohydrates, protein, and fats. When consumed, fats are broken down by the body into fatty acids, fat’s building blocks. These fatty acids are then used for several important body functions, such as energy, which allows the body to work correctly. They are also involved with several necessary functions such as cell activity, some nutrient and hormone absorption, and insulation. If that wasn't enough, fats also have a significant role in the enjoyment of food by enhancing taste and texture.
Among the 3 macronutrients, fat is the most calorie-rich. Fat provides 9 calories per gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein contains 4 calories per gram each. This variance in calorie density was among the first factors that led individuals to villainize fats. That’s not to say that the calorie possession of each macronutrient shouldn’t be accounted for in nutritional strategies. However, calories are not the only means by which a nutrient should be assessed.
In 1992, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) original food pyramid was born, which typically outlined what one should eat a day. Fat and added sugars were concentrated at the tip of the pyramid, indicating that they should be used sparingly as they provide calories and little else nutritionally. This pyramid eventually faced great controversy. Fats as a whole were put at the tip, indicating that all types should be restricted, even the healthy ones. That's one of the reasons why this pyramid is no longer the nutrition guide. Instead, today's guide is MyPlate, published by the USDA.
The notation that all fat is unhealthy is far from true. What counts most when it comes to dietary fat is the type and amount of fat you consume. Not all fats are the same. Some are good and essential to any healthy diet, while others are unhealthy and should be avoided.
Food contains four primary dietary fats: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. These fat types differ in their physical properties and chemical structures. Generally, with some exceptions, the “bad fats,” saturated and trans fats, tend to be firmer at room temperature (like butter). In contrast, the "healthier fats," Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats, tend to be more liquid (like olive oil).
The type of fat also impacts our body's blood cholesterol levels. A diet high in trans and saturate fats raises LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol, levels in the blood. Conversely, eating a healthy diet rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels.
To really unveil the truth behind fats, we'll look at each type closer. Let's start with the unhealthiest type of fat, trans fats. Trans fats are the byproduct of hydrogenation, a process used to convert healthy oils into solids and stop them from becoming rancid. Keeping your trans-fat consumption to less than 1% of your total daily calories is recommended. There are no health benefits that come from consuming trans fats, and there is no safe amount of intake. In fact, trans fat is so bad for our health that it has been formally prohibited in the United States by the FDA.
Trans fat consumption raises the amount of dangerous LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream while decreasing the amount of helpful HDL cholesterol. Inflammation caused by trans fats has been related to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. They raise the chance of getting type 2 diabetes by contributing to insulin resistance. Even small amounts of trans fats can be harmful. A study found that for every 2% of trans fat calories ingested daily, the chance of heart disease increases by 23%.
Saturated fats, while not as detrimental as trans fats, can harm health and should be limited to 10% or less of your daily calories. These fats are widely prevalent in the American diet. Saturated fats can be found in animal products, such as red meat and butter, and some plant-based lipids, such as coconut and palm oil. You might be thinking, aren’t liquid fats the good ones? As we previously mentioned, there are some exceptions to that rule, and these tropical oils are prime examples. A diet high in saturated fats can raise total cholesterol and shift the scales in favor of more dangerous LDL cholesterol, which can prompt blockages to develop in vessels throughout the body, including those that supply blood to the heart.
Now, let’s divert to the good stuff, monounsaturated fats. When adding olive oil to your salad, you mostly get monounsaturated fats. In fact, the healthiest diet in the world, the Mediterranean diet, greatly emphasizes the use of olive oil. Monounsaturated fats can aid in lowering bad blood cholesterol, which can, in turn, lower your chance of heart disease and stroke. They also give your body's cells the necessary nutrients to grow and remain healthy. Vitamin E, an antioxidant that most Americans lack enough of, is also provided by oils rich in monounsaturated fats.
If you're adding oil to your cooking pan, you'd likely be using polyunsaturated fat. Polyunsaturated fat is found in vegetable oils, like corn and sunflower, legumes, nuts, lentils, cereals, seeds, and fish. Polyunsaturated fats help reduce LDL cholesterol in the blood which can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends that 8–10% of our daily calories be obtained from polyunsaturated fats.
Omega 3, 6, and 9 fatty acids are unsaturated fatty acids with various biological and physiological impacts. These three omega fatty acids are commonly found in various vegetable oils and pharmaceutical formulations. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are well-known and praised for their benefits. These two fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Omega-9 fatty acids are commonly monounsaturated but can also be polyunsaturated.
You’ve probably already heard about the well-deserved praise that omega-3 fatty acids get. Omega-3 fatty acids are "healthy fats" needed for our body's health. They're an important component of our cell membranes, providing structure and aiding cell connections. Omega-3 fatty acids also have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating properties that may be relevant to atherosclerosis and its clinical symptoms of myocardial infarction, sudden mortality, and stroke. Thus, one key benefit of this fatty acid is that it supports heart health, especially since it also helps decrease triglyceride levels. In addition, omega-3s may help increase good cholesterol, HDL, and lower blood pressure. And if that wasn’t enough, omega 3 is also vital in boosting brain function and can positively prevent cognitive decline.
The three primary omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). DHA and EPA are found in seafood, particularly fatty fish, while ALA is found in plant sources such as flaxseed.
Our bodies can’t produce the dose of omega-3 fatty acids we need to survive. So, these fatty acids are considered essential nutrients, meaning we need to obtain them from our food. When you consume ALA, your body can convert some of it into EPA and DHA. However, this mechanism only produces a trace quantity of EPA and DHA. As a result, nutritional sources of EPA and DHA (such as seafood) are critical. The American Heart Association suggests that individuals who do not have a preexisting heart disease should consume two servings or more of fish per week.
Omega-6 fatty acids, a family of fats we get from some plant oils and seeds, are also beneficial. They lower the harmful cholesterol, LDL, and boost the protective one, HDL. Omega-6 also helps control blood sugar by increasing the body's response to insulin. Yet, these fats don't get the same dazzling reputation that omega-3 gets.
Most Americans consume roughly ten times more omega-6 than omega-3. Omega-6’s main charge is that it might promote inflammation. However, the American Heart Association found that not only is that not correct but that the opposite is true. Instead, consuming more omega-6 fats either decreased or did not alter inflammation markers. This means that contrary to what was once thought, healthy omega 6 should not be cut out of our diet, but instead, omega 3 consumption should be increased.
Now, for the less recognized omega fatty acid, omega 9. Unlike its cousins mentioned above, omega-9 fatty acids are mainly monounsaturated. They are found in plant and animal sources and can be made by our bodies, but only partially compensate for the body's requirements. Omega-9 fatty acid’s have various therapeutic effects, such as regulating inflammation, lipid, heart, and cancer disorders.
Understanding which fats are healthy is only useful if we know which foods provide them. So, here is a list of some sources that are high in healthy fats. Feel free to refer to it throughout your health journey to make choosing food easier.
- Olive, peanut, canola, safflower, and sesame oils
- Peanut Butter
- Nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans
- Seeds: pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Fish: herring, salmon, bluefin tuna, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, lake trout, striped bass
- Nuts and seeds: Flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts
- Plant oils: Flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil
- Fortified foods: some brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, infant formulas
- Dietary supplements: fish oil, krill oil, cod liver oil, algal oil
- Safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower seeds, grapeseed oil
- Pumpkin seeds
- Pine nuts
- Sunflower seeds
**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always consult a physician before starting a new diet regimen or new supplement product.
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