After years of being vilified as the macronutrient that will make you fat, I am glad to report most people are not as afraid of eating fat these days. To put is simply, it is much more likely that the sugar and highly processed carbohydrates we eat in high quantities are contributing to growing waist lines, higher overall weight and declining health. Fat is good for you and necessary to support healthy hormone balance, immune function, glowing skin and anti-inflammatory processes in the body. So let's look more closely at what fats can improve our health and which fats to limit.
Some people believe that the fat they consume is mostly contained in the oils they cook with or the salad dressings they throw on their salad. It's more than that. There is fat in meat, dairy products, nuts, and even some fruit (think coconuts and avocados).
Fats are made up of a number of different “fatty acids”. You have heard of these before, for instance “omega 3 fatty acids” or “omega 6 fatty acids”. Omega 6 fatty acids are highly concentrated in vegetable oils like sunflower, soybean, safflower and corn. Because these are cheaper oils and most can be heated to high temperatures many of our processed cereals, baked goods, and fast food companies tend to cook in these omega 6 rich oils. In America we consume more omega 6 than is best for our bodies. We also tend not to eat enough omega 3 or omega 9 rich foods to promote balance in our bodies. Omega 6 fatty acids have been shown to increase inflammation response. Whereas omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to promote anti-inflammatory processes.
Trans fat should be avoided altogether. You’ll find this type of fat in shortening and many shelf stable crackers and cookies in the supermarket. It is so bad for you that many other countries have completely banned this type of fat. It hides itself in many of our foods though, so sticking to whole foods is your best bet to avoid this type of fat. If you can’t do that make sure to scan the ingredient label for anything that says “partially hydrogenated oil”.
Saturated fats should be limited in our diets. They are found in dairy products and meat products. Choosing leaner cuts of meat and reducing the amount of full fat dairy consumed are the two best ways to avoid consuming too much saturated fat.
So what are healthy fats?
Those with a higher content of Omega 3 fatty acids, higher levels of Omega 9 fatty acids (conjugated linoleic acid or CLA), as well as fats containing medium chain triglycerides, because all of these types of fats have been shown to improve our health in one or multiple ways. It’s not so important that you remember these types of fat components but rather what types of foods to eat to maximize these healthier fats.
See my list below:
Wild caught salmon or other fatty fish: One of the best and highest sources of Omega 3 fatty acids. All fish contain these good fats, the colder water a fish swims in will increase the amount of Omega 3s it contains. Sardines are another great source or cod liver oil.
Grass fed beef has as much as 5 times more Omega-3s as a corn fed cow. It has much higher content of Omega-9 fatty acids as well. Cattle naturally graze on grass, you won’t find them in corn fields. Feeding cattle what is more natural for them yields healthier body compositions and in turn, improves the quality of meat we can source from these animals. You may have to adjust to a slightly less sweet, less fatty, and more gamey taste. Over time, grass fed beef will begin to taste normal to you.
Olive oil has been proven time and again in studies to improve cardiovascular labs like cholesterol and triglycerides. The Mediterranean diet is rich in fish, olive oil and olives and many studies have been done to learn why this diet pattern is so beneficial.
Avocados are a fruit that is rich in oleic acid. Oleic acid is the same type of fatty acid in olive oil.
Walnuts have the highest omega 3 content of nuts. However other healthy nuts include pecans, peanuts, and almonds.
Organic eggs from pastured chickens are much higher in omega fatty acids.
Butter or ghee from grass fed cows contains a short chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties called butyric acid. They also contain omega 3s and up to 5 times more CLA than butter from corn fed cows.
In terms of cooking oils, olive oil is great at lower temperatures and avocado oil or ghee are great alternatives for higher cooking temperatures. All have wonderful health attributes and are great additions to an anti-inflammatory kitchen.
Caitlin Johnson is a dietitian, wife, lover of ice cream, chef wannabe, California-girl, Christian, liver eating, "food-avore."
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