What is a good fat?
You might have heard the latest healthy-eating advice to eat more good fats. But what are good fats, where do we find them, and why should we eat them? Here's the skinny on healthy dietary fats.
Not all dietary fat is the same. In fact, the fats in our foods are categorised in many different ways. We need to understand what these fats are before we can work out which to avoid and which to eat more of.
Bad fats: saturated fat
Saturated fat is the kind of fat found in pastry, pies, cakes and low-quality processed meat products like sausages and patties. Whilst we shouldn't necessarily cut it out of our diets completely, most of us eat far too much saturated fat. Department of Health guidelines (http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/Fat.aspx) suggest a maximum of 30g of saturated fat a day for men and 20g a day for women. If you want to lose weight and shed body fat, minimise the amount of saturated fat you eat. The body doesn't look on it as a healthy, natural fat, and is more likely to hold on to it as a toxin. Plus, the kinds of foods high in saturated fat tend to be junk foods which have no place in a fat loss diet.
Bad fats: trans fats
These are the ones you really need to avoid. There's nothing good about trans fats. They are unnatural, unhealthy, and unrecognisable as a nutritional food source. Trans fats occur during the hydrogenation process, so they're not even molecularly sound. No wonder your poor body doesn't know what to do with them. As a result, it stores them, as a toxin (otherwise known as body fat). Trans fats are used in the fast food and commercial food industry as they're cheap and stable. So you'll find them in packaged foods, biscuits, pastry, pies and baked goods. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is high in trans fats.
It's not all bad news! Here are the good fats to look out for.
Good fats: unsaturated fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats)
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids actually protect our hearts and blood by helping lower levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol. Find these healthy fats in healthy, natural foods like nuts and seeds, oily fish, olive oil and avocados. Consider keeping them in the fridge, as they are more prone to going rancid, and have a shorter shelf life than other fats.
Good fats: omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 is a polyunsaturated fat, but worth a mention all of its own. Omega 3 fatty acids are thought to be the healthiest fats around, and important for everything from healthy living, disease prevention and joint health to weight loss. The best way to get omega 3 in your diet is from oily cold-water fish (try wild salmon, wild trout, mackerel, herring and sardines). Omega 3 fats are incredibly healthy, reduce inflammation, boost brain function and promote healthy cell function and regeneration. Optimal omega 3 intake has been linked with improvements in cardiovascular disease, depression, type 2 diabetes and inflammatory issues including arthritis. If you don't like fish, try walnuts, flax seeds or flax oil - other good sources of omega 3 fatty acids.
Can fat really be good for us?
Yes, definitely! Although low-fat diets were all the rage in the 80s, that's where they should stay. Today's healthy eaters and smart dieters know that some dietary fat isn't just good, it's downright crucial. Fat, like protein and carbohydrate, is a macronutrient. Our bodies, cells, hormones and even our brains all need some of the right kind of fat to function. Dietary fat helps us reach optimal health in many ways, from absorbing nutrients and fat-soluble vitamins (including vitamin A, E, D and K), to giving energy to our brains, and balancing our most essential hormones. Omega 3 fatty acids even help regulate important physical functions including circulation, heart health, blood pressure, and a healthy nervous system. And adding more fat to our diets can make us feel full, satisfied and less likely to snack on high carboyhdrate, sugary snacks.
Focusing on the good fats (omega 3 fatty acids, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) and avoid damaging trans fats and saturated fats by concentrating on these healthy, natural foods: avocados, whole eggs, grass-fed butter, coconut oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish.