We’ve always been conditioned to think that fats are bad – they add inches to your waistline, they increase your cholesterol levels and they cause a number of health problems. But scientifically, not all fats are bad. While bad fats can wreck your health and cause diseases, good fats, in turn, can protect your heart and brain. It is important to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fats in our daily lives. By consuming healthy fats, you can lose weight better, improve your mood and boost your energy and well-being.
What are the fats in your diet?
Fat is a type of nutrient, like proteins and carbohydrates. Your body needs some amount of fat for energy, to absorb vitamins and for heart health. Artificial trans fats and saturated fats are known to be the cause for weight gain, clogged arteries, and son on i.e, the “bad” fats. “Good” fats are the unsaturated fats and Omega-3s, which play a role in keeping your mental state well and even helping you lose weight.
Cholesterol is a type of lipid molecule which is an essential structural component of animal cell membranes. Cholesterol helps to keep your health on track but too much can cause a negative impact. Just like dietary fat, cholesterol is of two types –
– HDL cholesterol i.e the “good” cholesterol which can protect you from heart disease and stroke
– LDL cholesterol i.e the “bad” cholesterol which can increase your cardiovascular risk.
The biggest effect on your cholesterol levels is the type of fats you consume so it is important to track the latter to manage the former.
Healthy fats or “good” fats-
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, known as the “good” or healthy fats, help to
1. Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
2. Prevent atherosclerosis
3. Lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels
4. Lower blood pressure
Monounsaturated fats include avocados, nuts (almonds, pecans, macadamia, peanuts, cashews), peanut butter, and olive, peanut, canola and sesame oils. Polyunsaturated fats include soy milk, tofu, walnuts, soybean and safflower oil, flaxseed, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds.
What are Omega-3 fats?
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat and are very good for your body. They are mainly found in fish and vegetables. There are different types of Omega-3s: EPA and DHA are found in fish and algae and are the most healthy fats, while ALA comes from plants and is a less beneficial form.
Studies show that consuming more Omega-3s can help:
1. Protect against dementia and memory loss
2. Reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer
3. Support a healthy pregnancy
4. Reduce symptoms of depression and ADHD
5. Improve your memory and balance your mood
Omega-3s from fishes have high levels of EPA and DHA. Sources include mackerel, anchovies, salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, oysters, halibut, mussels and trout.
Vegetarian sources of Omega-3s, which are rich in ALA, include chia seeds, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, algae, eggs, walnuts, mayonnaise, beans, edamame, canola and soybean oil, spinach, kale and brussels sprouts.
You can also get your Omega-3 fats from Omega-3 capsule supplements, each of which supplies about 200 to 400 mg of EPA plus DHA, and should be enough for most people.
Unhealthy fats or “bad” fats
The worst type of fat is artificial trans fat which raises LDL cholesterol levels and lowers HDL cholesterol levels. Artificial trans fat contributes to insulin resistance, leading to a high risk of Type 2 diabetes and can also cause inflammation linked to heart disease, stroke, and other heart conditions. It is best to eliminate such type of fats from your diet to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Trans fats include commercially-baked cakes, cookies, pizzas, muffins and doughnuts, packaged snacks (popcorn, chips), fried foods (fried chicken, french fries, chicken nuggets), any product containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and any food product claiming to be “trans fat-free”
Saturated fats, on the other hand, are not as bad as trans fat but still are capable of causing negative effects on your health if consumed in excess. While you do not need to cut saturated fats completely out from your diet, it is recommended to limit it to 10% of your daily calories.
Saturated fat sources include red meat (beef, pork, lamb), whole-fat dairy (milk, cheese, cream), chicken skin, butter, ice cream, coconut and palm oil.
How to choose a healthy oil
Vegetable oils usually lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Sunflower, corn, safflower and soybean oils contain omega-6, a type of polyunsaturated fat which may help reduce insulin resistance and inflammation. Some tips to choose a healthy oil for cooking are:
1. Choose “extra-virgin” olive oil over regular olive oil as the former has additional heart benefits
2. Use unhydrogenated vegetable oils like olive, canola and sunflower oil whenever possible.
3. Less-processed oils like cold-pressed virgin olive oil potentially contain beneficial phytochemicals.
Tips to live a “healthy fats” lifestyle
1. Cook with olive oil, not butter and for baking, stick to canola oil.
2. Replace fried chicken with grilled chicken
3. Replace commercially-available salad dressings which are high in unhealthy oils with your own made with olive oil, flaxseed or sesame oil.
4. Eat more avocados, whether in salads, sandwiches or guacamole. They are loaded with heart-healthy fats.
5. Snack more on nuts. You can make your own trail mixes using different types of nuts, seeds and dried fruits for a quick, healthy snack.
6. Snack on olives as they are high in monounsaturated fats and are low in calories.
7. Make sure to eat omega-3s every day, either in the form of fish or plant sources like walnuts or flaxseeds.
8. Cut out trans fats (refined carbohydrates and sugary foods) and limit saturated fats (replace red meat with poultry or fish) in your diet
Now that you know the difference between unhealthy and healthy fats, you can start making informed decisions on what kinds of food to include in your diet. If you are looking for weight loss, you can subscribe to our Lean Machine Keto Meal Subscription, a diet plan which focuses on the ketogenic diet where your body burns fat with fat. Read more about the science behind this diet here.
Want to get started on including more healthy fats in your diet? Try our Assorted Seed Mix, a blend of sunflower, pumpkin, and watermelon seeds. Rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats, it is also high in fiber, which is great for digestion, intestinal health, and weight loss and Vitamin E, which is good for skin and hair health.