Fats are a concentrated source of energy (at 9 kcal per gram), often making them the focal point when weight loss or healthier eating goals are put into place. However, is limiting fats warranted for these situations?
Fats – Essential to Good Health
Fats have a multitude of functions in the body, making them essential to health. Following are four ways that fats play an important role in our overall diet and health.
#1 – Fats are building blocks.
Fats are the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances that regulate numerous body functions.
#2 – Fats slow down digestion.
Fats help to slow down digestion and absorption processes, keeping you fuller for longer and helping to maintain steady blood sugar levels.
#3 – Fats are needed for the absorption of essential vitamins.
Fats are necessary for the absorption of the essential fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
#4 – Fat provides flavor.
Fat also gives food flavor. Fat-free and low-fat products are typically highly processed and contain high levels of sodium and sugars to compensate for the missing fat.
*Not all fats are the same. Fat is not the once perceived driving force behind obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions. In fact, many fats can help in the prevention of heart disease and diabetes.
The Various Types of Dietary Fats
#1 – Monounsaturated Fats
A healthy fat choice. Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature.
- Sources: Olives and olive oil, avocado (avocado oil), canola oil, most nuts and seeds.
- Consumption recommendation: A healthy source of fat. It is recommended to use monounsaturated fats in lieu of saturated and trans fats.
#2 – Polyunsaturated Fats
An essential fat (required via dietary means) Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and include Omega:3 and Omega:6 fats.
- Sources: Omega-3 fatty acids (which are anti-inflammatory) include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and non-hydrogenated soybean oil.
- Omega-6 sources include: safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut, and corn oils.
- Consumption recommendation: A healthy source of fat. Choose polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates. This replacement can help to reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and lowers triglyceride levels.
#3 Saturated Fats
A solid fat at room temperature and found mostly in animal products.
- Sources: red meat, whole-milk dairy (milk, cheese, butter), egg yolk and tropical oils (coconut and palm oils).
- Consumption recommendation: Moderation (if possible choose animal products from grass-fed, pastured sources). Believe it or not, even though saturated fat raises cholesterol levels it also raises HDL (the “good”) cholesterol levels, which help to protect against heart disease. Saturated fat also changes the LDL (“bad” cholesterol) from small to large particles that help to reduce heart disease risk.
#4 Trans Fats
A man-made fat that was initially created to be a substitute for saturated fat.
- Sources: store-bought frostings, peanut butter, processed foods and bakery items (cookies, cakes, crackers). Any food item with the term “partially hydrogenated oil” on the food label ingredient list contains trans fats.
- Consumption recommendation: Avoid trans fats as there is no safe level of consumption. Trans fats increase the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduce the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also contribute to insulin resistance, which is linked to heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.
A Simple Healthy Fat Recipe
Avocado Egg Salad
A simple, healthy and delicious substitute for mayonnaise is avocado. The following recipe is a fabulous sandwich filler, salad topper or snack with some veggies or whole grain crackers to use as a scoop. The healthy fats and protein in this recipe will be sure to satisfy your hunger.
- 1 avocado
- 4 hard-boiled eggs, cooled and peeled
- 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
- 1 lemon, juiced
- ¼ cup chives (optional)
- ¼ tsp salt (or to taste)
- ¼ tsp ground pepper (or to taste)
- Chop the hard-boiled eggs
- Peel and core the avocado, then dice into small pieces
- In a bowl, mix together all of the ingredients. If you prefer a less chunky egg salad you can mash the mixture slightly with a fork. Serve immediately.