The Skinny on Fats
Many believe they need to avoid dietary fats in order to maintain a healthy diet. Nutritional guideline plans have even been created to accommodate this trend by recommending higher amounts of carbohydrates and very low fats. Now, low-fat and nonfat foods have been normalized to become part of the common diet. However, in order to enhance the flavor of these products, companies replace the fat with high amounts of sugar. Many healthcare communities and social media make claims about dietary fat that are often misleading and false. The idea that high fat diets with saturated fat and cholesterol would lead to heart disease has been has been exposed to be false by studies such as in Siri-Tarino, Sun, Hu, & Krauss’s (2010) study.
With advancements in research, we know that not all fats have the same functions and effects. Our bodies need certain fats to function properly. These healthy fats help to reduce unhealthy cholesterol, boost metabolism, and shed excess weight. They are the building blocks for the regulation of our hormones, and are needed for healthy hair, skin, and nails.
Fats are particularly important for reproductive health and fertility. As a nutritionist, one of my priorities when working with women trying to conceive is to help them attain hormonal balance. Hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, and insulin are vital chemical messengers that are required for the body to run effectively. Your body needs different types of fats, including saturated fat and cholesterol, to produce these hormones. They also are necessary to regulate a woman’s monthly cycle and help reduce inflammation throughout the body, including the uterus. Therefore, they have a strong influence on fertility.
Healthy Anti-Inflammatory Fats
Coconut oil (cream/milk) contains medium-chain fats, which the body uses as energy instead of storing them as lipids. Coconut oil also has natural antibacterial and antimicrobial effects.
Avocado and avocado oil
Avocado and avocado oil is one of the healthiest fruits you can consume. Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fats, which raise levels of good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol levels. Some other benefits include improved heart health, reduced inflammation, and appetite maintenance, as well as being a great source of fiber.
Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is high in monounsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health. EVOO also contain high amounts of antioxidants which helps protect your cells from damage. It has also been shown to help improve memory and cognitive function, and works as an anti-inflammatory compound.
Salmon is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are anti-inflammatory and help with cognitive functions. Omega-3 fatty acids are also a component of cell membranes and are important for proper cell-to-cell communication.
Unhealthy Fats to Avoid
Safflower, corn, sunflower, soybean, and cottonseed and canola oils all contain over 50% omega-6 fatty acid, a type of fat that is inflammatory for the body. These should be avoided.
Hydrogenated/ partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats
Hydrogenation is a process that takes a liquid fat and turns it into a solid fat during the processing a type of fat called trans fat is made. Manufactures use hydrogenated oils to save money, extend shelf life, an add texture to food. Hydrogenated oils should be avoided because they can affect heart health by increasing “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowering “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
Tips for Buying Healthy Fats
Unfortunately, buying healthy fats/oils is not as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. I recommend only purchasing extra virgin varieties of an oil. Cold pressed oils are also a plus as oils that are mechanically pressed lose their beneficial properties from the heat applied. Oils packaged in dark bottles are also more beneficial as the darkness of the bottle protects the oil from oxidation and rancidity.
Siri-Tarino, P. W., Sun, Q., Hu, F. B., & Krauss, R. M. (2010). Meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies evaluating the association of saturated fat with cardiovascular disease. The American journal of clinical nutrition, ajcn-27725.