For years, nutritionists and doctors have preached that a low-fat diet is the key to losing weight and preventing health problems. However, not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats such as omega-3s—are vital to your physical and emotional health. Understanding how to include more healthy fat in your diet can help improve your mood, boost your well-being, and even trim your waistline.
Healthy or “good” fats are essential to help manage your moods, stay on top of your mental game, fight fatigue, and even control your weight.
Since the human brain is nearly 60 percent fat, healthy fats are also vital for proper brain development and function.
Studies show that healthy fats, not calorie counting or low-fat diets, can help you get lean. In human experiments, those who ate high-fat diets had a much faster metabolism. Low-fat, high-carb diets spiked insulin, subsequently slowing metabolism and storing as belly fat. The higher-fat diet group had a faster metabolism, even while eating the same amount of calories.
Good fats vs. bad fats
There are four major types of dietary fat found in food from plants and animals:
• Good: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (including omega-3s)
• Bad: trans fats
• Open to debate: saturated fats
• How food is raised or grown, how it’s prepared, and any additives used can make a huge difference to whether something is healthy or unhealthy. While some fish is packed with healthy omega-3 fats, for example, deep frying it in refined vegetable oil can add unhealthy trans fat, making it potentially harmful.
• There’s an ongoing debate in the nutrition world about the merits and dangers of saturated fat and no clear consensus on exactly where it falls on the spectrum of good fats to bad.
• While monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from whole foods are universally considered good fats, those from industrially manufactured oils are often considered dangerous.
Here are some important tips on eating healthy fats:
–Add more unsaturated fat to your diet:
These good fats can improve blood cholesterol levels, lower your risk of heart disease, and benefit insulin levels and blood sugar. Omega-3 fats are particularly beneficial for your brain and mood. The best sources are fish, nuts, and seeds.
• Nuts (almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews)
• Natural peanut butter (containing just peanuts and salt)
• Sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds
• Fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines)
Beware of certain unsaturated oils
There are basically two types of unsaturated vegetable oils:
1 Traditional, cold-pressed oils such as extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil, and sesame oil that are rich in monounsaturated fats and made without the use of chemicals or heat.
2 Modern processed oils such as soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil which are industrially manufactured—usually from genetically modified crops in the U.S.—using heat and toxic solvents.
Some nutritionists feel that these manufactured vegetable oils shouldn’t be included as “good” fats because the damaging industrial processing can transform the fatty acids into dangerous trans fat.
Add Omega 3s :
Omega-3 fatty acids, types of polyunsaturated fat, can:
• Prevent and reduce symptoms of depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder
• Protect against memory loss and dementia
• Reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer
• Ease arthritis, joint pain, and inflammatory skin conditions
• Support a healthy pregnancy
• Help you battle fatigue, sharpen your memory, and balance your mood
The different types of omega-3 fatty acids:
• EPA and DHA found in fish and algae have the most health benefits.
• ALA comes from plants and is a less potent form of omega-3 than EPA and DHA, although the body does convert ALA to EPA and DHA
at low rates.
The best sources of omega-3s
While most of us obtain plenty of omega-6 fats in our diets, we need to increase our intake of omega-3s to maintain a healthy ratio.
Fish: the best source of omega-3s
• Salmon (especially wild-caught king and sockeye)
Vegetarian sources of omega-3s
• Algae such as seaweed (high in EPA and DHA)
• Fish oil or algae supplements
• Brussels Sprouts
If you don’t eat fish, consider taking an omega-3 supplement.
While omega-3s are best obtained through food, there are many omega-3 and fish oil supplements available.
• Avoid products that don’t list the source of their omega-3s. The package should list the source of omega-3 fatty acids as fish oil, krill oil, or algae.
• Look for the total amount of EPA and DHA on the label. The bottle may say 1,000 milligrams of fish oil, but it’s the amount of omega-3 that matters.
How much omega-3 do I need?
For most people, two 6 oz. servings of fatty fish a week, as well as regular servings of ALA-rich vegetables provides a healthy amount. For fish oil supplements, look for 700-1,000 mg of EPA and 200-500 mg of DHA daily. Many algae supplements have a lower recommended dose due to the higher concentration of omega-3s.
Eliminate trans fat from your diet
Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in meat and dairy products but it’s artificial trans fats that are considered dangerous.
• These are normal fat molecules that have been deformed during a process called hydrogenation, where liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas.
• Partially hydrogenating vegetable oils makes them more stable and less likely to spoil.
• Trans fats raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower your HDL (“good”) cholesterol and increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
• No amount of trans fats is healthy.
Examples of Bad Fats:
• Commercially baked goods (cookies, crackers, cakes, muffins, pie crusts, pizza dough, breads like hamburger buns)
• Packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips, candy)
• Solid fats (stick margarine, vegetable shortening)
• Fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish, hard taco shells)
• Pre-mixed products (cake mix, pancake, chocolate milk)
• Anything with “partially hydrogenated” oil listed in the ingredients
• Reduce fried food. While there’s a movement to ban trans fat in the U.S., that won’t make your French fries any healthier if they’re cooked in vegetable oils that oxidize when heated. It’s safer to cut down on fried foods altogether.
• Avoid fast food. Most states have no labeling regulations for fast food, and it can even be advertised as cholesterol-free when cooked in vegetable oil.
• When eating out, talk to your server. Ask if your food can be prepared using olive oil instead of partially hydrogenated oil.meals, and takeout food.
• Don’t replace high quality sources of saturated fat with refined carbs or sugary snacks.
• Don’t eat just red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) but vary your diet with free range chicken, eggs, fish, and vegetarian sources of protein.
• If you choose to eat red meat, look for “organic” and “grass-fed”.
• Roast, grill, or slow cook meat and poultry instead of frying.
• Enjoy full-fat dairy in moderation and choose organic or raw milk, cheese, butter, and yoghurt when possible.
• Avoid snack foods such as corn or potato chips.
The typical Western diet is filled with fried, processed food, packaged meals, and sugary snacks hence, leading to higher rates of obesity and illness.
Eating less processed food and more “real,” natural food—fresh from the ground, the ocean, or small, local farms—is a sound place to start for all your food choices, including healthy fats.