It’s a common misconception that eating fat causes excess body fat. The truth is that fat is a macronutrient your body needs for energy and proper function, just like protein and carbohydrates. However, not all fats are created equal; the type of dietary fat you eat determines how it affects your body.
Healthy and Not-So-Healthy Fats
Ideally, your diet should contain a balance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, like those found in nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, grass-fed meats, fatty fish, and marine algae. These healthy fats lower inflammation and support many of your body’s functions, including cardiovascular health, brain function, emotional health, and immune function.
Trans fats are the worst type of fat. They’re mostly man-made fats found in hydrogenated oils, fried foods, and many store-bought bakery items. Trans fats offer no nutritional benefits and have the most negative impact on your ratio of good (HDL) to bad (LDL) cholesterol. They pose the greatest risk to your cardiovascular health, inflammation control, insulin response, and body fat regulation.
Americans also consume too many omega-6 fatty acids, which come mainly from vegetable oils and animals raised on grains instead of grass. Excessive amounts of omega-6 can contribute to inflammation and result in heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, and depression, which is why you should keep your consumption moderate.
While your body needs healthy fats to function properly, an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats can have seriously negative consequences, and excess body fat is only one of them.
When Fats Behave Badly
Bad fats can wreak havoc on your body, leading to lifelong consequences like chronic inflammation, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems.
A high intake of omega-6 fats and trans fats can overstimulate your body’s immune response, triggering excessive inflammation and flooding tissues with damaging hormones and defensive cells. Chronic inflammation weakens your body’s organs and systems, increasing its susceptibility to joint pain, gastrointestinal disorders, high blood pressure, reduced cognition, and other health problems.
As they disrupt your body’s balance of good and bad cholesterol, bad fats can lead to plaque buildup and the hardening of your arteries, or atherosclerosis. The resulting stress on your circulatory system increases your risks of heart disease and stroke. Bad fats also promote insulin resistance and make your body less efficient at removing glucose from your bloodstream, potentially leading to pre-diabetes and diabetes.
These consequences are largely the reason dietary fats used to get a bad rap. Now, however, we know healthy fats are an essential part of keeping your mind and body functioning properly.
The Healthy Fats Your Body Needs
Healthy fats are dense sources of energy. Compared to carbohydrates and protein — which both supply about four calories per gram — healthy fats can supply up to nine calories per gram.
Healthy fats keep you satisfied after eating, and they allow your body to absorb vitamins D, E, A, and K. Insufficient healthy fats in your diet can mean a weaker immune system, fragile bones, and weaker joints.
The good news is that healthy fats are not hard to find. In fact, seven of the most common sources of healthy fats are foods that should already be included in your diet:
1. Coconut oil:
Coconut oil contains medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) your body directly converts into usable energy. MCTs keep your metabolism up for healthy weight management and support your cardiovascular health by promoting a higher ratio of good to bad cholesterol.
2. Fatty fish:
Salmon, sardines, and other varieties of fish are packed with the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). These polyunsaturated fats help your body maintain its immune system, cardiovascular health, and joint lubrication. They also play a significant role in brain function and are associated with lower rates of cognitive decline and depression in the elderly.
3. Flax oil:
The oil component of flax seeds is a fantastic source of alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids your body converts to DHA and EPA. The oil’s anti-inflammatory activity supports healthy immune responses and can help manage pain and swelling, especially in your joints.
4. Nut fats:
Nuts contain ample amounts of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, especially almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, and their oils. In addition to anti-inflammatory activity, healthy nut fats deliver fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins E and K, which provide antioxidant protection and better bone health, respectively.
5. Grass-fed butter:
Compared to butter from grain-fed cows, grass-fed butter contains significantly higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin K. CLA is a natural fat burner that promotes lean muscle mass and heart health.
6. Extra virgin olive oil:
Olive oil contains high levels of monounsaturated oleic acid. It can improve your good to bad cholesterol ratio, especially if your monounsaturated fat levels are low. Extra virgin olive oil is also a good source of the antioxidant polyphenol hydroxytyrosol, which protects blood vessels from oxidation.
This heart-healthy fruit is very low in sugar but high in monounsaturated fat, making it an excellent cholesterol-free substitute for mayo or margarine spreads. The high fat content improves your body’s absorption of carotenoids, such as beta-carotene, that are needed to maintain good eye health and a strong immune system.
Healthy fats are as important to a healthy diet as protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other essential minerals and nutrients. Therefore, the trick to good weight management isn’t to eliminate fat, but to make sure you’re getting enough of the right fats through your diet.