Fats, also known as lipids, are an essential component of our diet, and a minimum intake is required. They are found primarily in meats, dairy foods, nuts and seeds, peanuts, olives, avocados and oils.
Fats are needed for the health of our cells, brain, heart, skin, and hormonal system. They also protect our vital organs, regulate body temperature and help the body absorb vitamin A, D, E, and K – also known as the fat-soluble vitamins. They are also a reserve source of energy.
Some types of fats are better than others and the key is obviously to consume them in moderation but try to get them from healthy sources rather than processed and refined ones. It’s also important to know that all fats are a mix of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats, just in different proportions. To remain healthy, our bodies need all types of fats (short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs) and long-chain fatty acids (LCFAs), as well as both saturated and unsaturated fats).
There are 4 main types of fats:
1. Unsaturated fats
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the types of fats that are not saturated, which mean they are healthier for us. Those types of fats are essential for our health and these are the ones that we should focus eating the most. This is where you find olive oil, as well as the other vegetable oils, avocado, olives, nuts and seeds, soy, as well as fatty fishes. All the omegas are part of that category.
Note: Some types of vegetable oils may be unhealthy and should be avoided, as they are highly refined and high in omega-6’s, which promote inflammation in the body. Choose high quality oils and don’t cook them above their smoking point.
2. Saturated fats
Saturated fats are fats that are mainly found in animal and animal by-products, but are also found in processed food, fast food, and tropical oils. We need saturated fats in our body, but we need to get them from real wholesome foods and consume them in moderation. They are helpful because they help stabilize cell membranes.
If eaten in excess and if eating from processed food, those types of fats are known to increase blood cholesterol and increase risks of heart diseases. However, coconut oil is an exception as it acts differently in the body and has many health benefits and healing properties. It’s important to know that all saturated fat is not created equal.
Regarding animal foods, it’s best to consume high-quality food such as grass-fed meat, pastured-raised eggs and organic, grass-fed butter and dairy products, and consume them in moderation. However, “food” such as sausage, hot dogs, pasteurized milk, and other highly processed food should indeed be avoided.
Cholesterol is needed for proper hormones balance, brain function and general health. It’s the precursor of the bile acids and the sex hormones. Without it, our bodies could not function. It’s that important so the body makes its own daily.
Cholesterol is found in animal food only, such as egg yolks, meats, and other animals fats, including milk products. It’s however important to know that the cholesterol found in foods is not really the bad one. It’s more the oxidized cholesterol in the blood that causes the trouble.
In that category, we find the “good” cholesterol (HDL), “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides. Today, however, LDL is less bad, and HDL is still good. Many different factors may affect our cholesterol levels but if the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) or the triglycerides are too high, it increases the risk of heart diseases and stroke. By keeping our good cholesterol (HDL) higher, we are protecting ourselves against heart disease.
A key point is to continue to increase our HDL levels and maintain our lower our total cholesterol. Getting more exercise and increasing dietary fibers can help decrease total cholesterol.
4. Trans fats
Trans fatty acids are the worst types of fat. They are mostly found in in processed food, packaged snack food, fried food, as well as in margarine and shortening. They are created when liquid vegetable oils are transformed into semi-solid. They are known to increase bad cholesterol, decrease good cholesterol, and increase risks of heart diseases.
About Essential Fatty acids
Essential fatty acids, also known as omegas, are fats that are essential for our body and needed for optimum health. These include omega-3, -6 and -9’s. Omegas-3 and -6 are the ones that we need to get from food since our body can’t produce them. Omega-9’s, on the other hand, are also essential but our body produces its own.
One of the major problems we have today is that most people are deficient in omega-3’s and are getting way too much of omega-6’s, which creates imbalance in the body. This imbalance is known to be the source of many health problems. To resolve this problem, and get healthier, we have to focus on eating good fats from real whole food, and cut down on processed foods, as well as some types of refined vegetable oils.
Omega-3 fatty acids are extremely important to our health. They are essential for the health of our brain and our heart, and they reduce inflammation in the body and the risk of chronic diseases. Most people are deficient in omega-3s.
Omega-3’s are classified in 3 categories:
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
The most effective omegas for our body are the EPA and DHA. They mostly come from fatty fishes, microalgae, as well as different types of supplements. ALA is still great but our body has to convert them into EPA and DHA. ALA is found in plant sources such as some types of nuts and seeds, leafy greens, and soy products.
People on a vegetarian diet can still meet their omega-3 needs by consuming a healthy diet with a variety of nuts and seeds, sea vegetables, as well as different types of vegan supplements but it’s not as efficient.
Omega-6 fatty acids are essential fats that must be obtained through food. There are two types of omega-6:
- LA (linoleic acid)
- AA (arachidonic acid)
Sources of LA include soybean, corn and sunflower oil, and sources of AA include meat, dairy products and eggs. Healthier sources of omega-6’s are found in grains, nuts and seeds, as well as in borage oil.
We should be eating about the same quantity of omega-6 as omega-3 since the ideal ratio is known to be 1:1. But in North America, most people are consuming way too much of omega-6, and not enough omega-3, which lead to inflammation in the body and may result in many different types of health problems. We have to cut down on omega-6 and focus on eating healthy fats and including more omega-3’s.
Omega-9’s are also important in the body but we don’t have to focus on them since they are produced by the body. However, we can find them in nuts and seeds, avocados, most vegetables oils and animal fats. They are known to reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases and improve immune function.