Get your fats right

Healthy fats. Good fats. Bad fats. We hear this all the time but what does it actually mean? Fats are a macronutrient (the other two being proteins and carbohydrates) that can be broken down into four subcategories: monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, saturated fatty acids, and trans fats. Before we go into the details of each of these subcategories let’s look at the function of fat in our diet.

Functions of fat

Fats are necessary for a variety of functions, including the proper absorption of fat soluble vitamins₁ such as vitamins A, D, E, K. Fats also promote brain development, hormone regulation and help cushion our internal organs.

At 9 calories per gram, fats are the highest source of energy per gram of the different macronutrients (carbohydrates and proteins are 4 calories per gram), however this doesn’t mean you should shy away from fats, even if you are wanting to loose weight. Quality fats actually help promote a healthy weight as eating them with a meal helps satiety levels (that feeling full feeling!). It is recommended to get between 20-35% of your daily calorific intake from quality fats.

Types of Fat

Now this is where things can get a little technical, so I’ll try and explain it as simply as possible. As mentioned before, there are four types of fats, each with their own positives and negatives.

1. Monounsaturated Fatty Acids

These are good guys. They help with heart health are support ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) as well as lower ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL). They tend to be liquid at room temperature.

olive oil

Sources of monounsaturated fats include:

  • Olives & olive oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Avocados

2. Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids

These guys are also good. They contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3s and omega-6s are very important for our health as we can’t produce them ourselves. Western diets tend to be lower in omega-3s and higher in omega-6s (linoleic acid) which tends to promote inflammation (once of the biggest causes in illness and death in the western world – more on this another time).

Omega 3s help reduce inflammation, support heart health, reduce the risk of cancer, as well as the symptoms of depression. There are three main types of omega-3s: EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).

Sources of EPA & DHA include:

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Mackerel

Recommendation: to get the suggested amount of EPA & DHA you would have to eat A LOT of fish. I would recommend taking algae supplements, for those who eat fish, and especially those who don’t. Make sure the supplements have a minimum of 250–500 mg combined EPA and DHA each day for healthy adults.

Sources of ALA include:

  • Walnuts
  • Flaxseeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Canola oil

Sources of omega-6 include:

  • Safflower oil
  • Corn oil
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Soy

3. Saturated Fatty Acids

These guys aren’t great, they don’t really have many health benefits. It is recommended that we limit our intake to 10% of our daily calories. They tend to be solid at room temperature and come from animal-based foods. Coconut oil is a plant-based source of saturated fat, but it’s also a great source of lauric acid and has beneficial antibacterial, anti-fungal, and even cholesterol-lowering properties₁.

Sources of saturated fatty acids include:

  • Fatty meat
  • Dairy
  • Lard
  • Tropical palms (coconut, palm, cocoa).

4. Trans Fats

Now these are your bad guys and should be avoided when possible. They have a high association with heart disease and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)₁. Labels that contain the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ indicate that trans fats are present.

Sources of trans fats include:

  • Processed baked goods
  • Frozen foods
  • Margarine
  • Fried foods

Preparation of fats

It’s worth noting that how you prepare foods with fat will effect their nutritional value. For example looking at different oils smoking points. Often the simplest way is best. Personally I love mixing olive oil and lemon juice to drizzle over a salad or roasted vegetables.

Please remember…

Don’t get too stressed about it all! If you eat some trans fats (I do, hellooo chips) it’s not the end of the world. Food is to be enjoyed. The idea of telling you about the different types of fat is to give you more knowledge so you can make better, more informed, decisions.

As always, if you have any questions, or need any advice, please feel free to reach out to me. You can either head over to contact me or reach out via my social channels (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter), I’m all ears.

Have a fab day and let me know what you think in the comments box below.

Love Emma x

References:

  1. Institute of Integrative Nutrition, Module 5, Macronutrients 101 Fats, 2021

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