Nutrition is such a cool subject because things are always changing. New studies are constantly being performed and conclusions are almost always argued by the industry. Sometimes it’s hard though – what do you trust?
For years it was generally believed that putting fat in our body, results in fat on our body. People are starting to understand the important role of refined sugars on weight gain, but fat’s still seen as the devil. Growing up, I always ate a low-fat diet – as I’m sure most people did – without realizing the negative implications.
Here’s the truth … There are good fats, and there are bad fats. Guess what? The good fats are absolutely essential to proper biological functioning and well-being. The importance of healthy fats cannot be underestimated.
We need good fats in our diet.
Saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. We need them all.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are especially important in our diet. These include your polyunsaturated fats: Omega-3’s and Omega-6’s. These fats are super important in the proper biological functioning of our body and both have different roles:
- Omega-3’s are anti-inflammatory making them great for diseases like arthritis, dementia and cancer. They’re also great for our hair, skin and nails, as well as any depression or anxiety. They literally make us glow!
- Omega-6’s create hormone-like messengers to send signals throughout our bodies. It helps us with growth (muscle, brain, etc) and creates important nerve transmitters. Omega-6 causes inflammation – but that doesn’t mean we need to avoid it.
The important thing to remember, is that we need to eat a proper ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. This ratio should be between 4:1 to 1:1. The average western diet includes ratios as high as 16:1… which is WAY too many omega-6’s. Remember, omega-6’s are PRO-inflammatory so too much omega-6 can lead to pro-inflammatory diseases like heart disease, cancers and arthritis.
Where can we get good fats?
Let’s keep chatting about our lovely essential fatty acids for a second…
Omega-3’s are most conveniently found in meat and fish. This omega-3 is in the form of DHA or EPA, which our body can readily use. If you are a meat-eater, stick to grass-fed organic meats and wild fatty fish like salmon for omega-3 intake. Grain-fed meats have fewer omega-3’s, and more omega-6’s, which lends too an imbalance in the EFA ratio.
You can also get your omega-3’s from a variety of seeds, nuts and oils, but it comes in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which our body needs to convert to EPA/DHA. It’s less efficient to convert ALA this way, but it is the option for vegetarians and vegans who do not eat meat products. Foods like chia seeds and flax seeds are particularly great sources.
For your omega-6’s, stay away from processed oils and junk. Corn oils and hydrogenated oils might be sources of omega-6, but they’re not good quality fats and should be avoided at all costs. Remember, an oil that is extremely high in omega-6’s, with low omega-3’s, will put your ratios off-balance. Eat whole foods like seeds and nuts to get your daily intake. You can also get omega-6’s from quality meat, similar to where you can find omega-3’s.
Don’t forget that we also need saturated fats in our diet, too! Saturated fats are found in our cell membranes, help calcium be used by our bones, support our body’s use of EFAs and more. Foods like coconut oil and grass-fed organic butter are great sources of these fats. Coconut oil is particularly awesome because it converts quickly into energy. Monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil are also great – EVOO contains antioxidants too!
Coconut oil and butter are great for higher-temperature cooking, since they have high smoke-points and are made up of mostly saturated fats. Keep this in mind when you’re making dinner – polyunsaturated fats in your oil can oxidize quickly and become rancid/turn into free radicals when exposed to heat and air. It’s best to stick with saturated fats for high-heat cooking.
Cut out those bad fats.
Bad fats include things like trans-fats, partially-hydrogenated, hydrogenated fats and other junky oils.
Trans fats are nasty. They were once ordinary, polyunsaturated fats that have been heavily processed to become semi-solid or solid at room temperature – think margarine. This is done by a process called “hydrogenation” which forces hydrogen molecules into the oils, causing the structure to change.
Trans fats trick our cells into thinking they’re good fats, even though all nutritional benefits are gone. Then they mess with our cell’s natural metabolism because of their “unrecognizable” chemical structure. Hydrogenated oils are also awful because of the chemicals that they’ve been exposed to throughout the hydrogenation process. Have you seen the colour of margarine before being bleached and coloured? It’s grey. Consumption of hydrogenated fats is associated with serious issues like cancer, diabeties, sterility, and more. Seriously, stay away from hydrogenated and trans fats – they do nothing good for you.
Hydrogenated fats, including trans fats, can be found in a number of common grocery store foods such as:
- Granola bars
- Processed peanut butter
- Fried foods
- Snack foods
- … and so much more
Does this look like your grocery list? It looks like one of mine from a few years back.
Although we’ve established saturated fats like butter can be good for you, remember that not sources are good. If we eat fatty meats that were factory-farmed, we are likely eating poor quality saturated fats. These fats are filled with the hormones, antibiotics and GMOs that the animal was fed and pumped with throughout their lifetime. They’re also much higher in omega-6’s (which is pro-inflammatory) with lower/negligible levels of omega-3’s. Animal fats are not the devil, as long as they’re sourced properly.
In the end, it’s about eating the right fats in the right quantities.
As a rule of thumb, remember…
- Get a 4:1 to 1:1 ratio of Omega-6’s and Omega-3’s in your daily diet, preferably from organic, grass-fed meat or wild salmon, or high quality sources of nuts and seeds.
- Saturated fats are necessary in your diet – again, make sure you source them from organic, grass-fed meat or plant sources like coconut oil.
- Stay away from trans/hydrogenated fats – think baked goods, deep fried foods and processed junk. When in doubt, read the ingredients – trans fats/hydrogenated fats are not natural.
- Don’t over-indulge. Fats are necessary for our body, but not in massive quantities. Just like most things, be sensible about how much you eat.
These days I’ve been enjoying my grass-fed butter, coconut oil, chia seeds and salmon. My body and mind need these fats, just like yours does. We don’t need to be scared of fat, we just need to be smart about where we get it.