All fats and oils contain fatty acids. You may be most familiar with Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish oil. When you eat healthy fats and oils, the digestion process enables the fatty acids to be absorbed into the blood. Fatty acids are a component of fats and oils that become the building blocks of your body, helping to create cells membranes and nerve sheathing among other body functions.
Walnuts have earned their superfood status in part because of their fats. They are one of the few foods to deliver alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fat thought to protect against heart disease. Toast them to bring out their flavor and extra crunch, then sprinkle about a tablespoon on yogurt or fold some into muffins or your morning oatmeal.
Good question. Native hunter and gatherer societies have thrived on diets with a wide range of fat intake. Most experts suggest approximately 30% of calories as a dietary goal for good fats, which should come from a good mix of naturally occurring saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The Atkins Nutritional Approach recommends higher levels of good fats during the first three weight-loss phases when carb consumption is lower. This higher recommended level of good fats is an integral component of the Atkins plan as it aids in weight loss and energy levels. The Lifetime Maintenance Phase recommends 30%-40% of calories coming from fat – however, the percentage will ultimately depend on your individual level of carb consumption.
Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been processed and as a result, behave like saturated fats. Eating trans fats increases the levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreases the levels of ‘good’ cholesterol in the body which is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is important to lower the amounts of trans fats you eat to help you stay healthy.
However, many experts disagree with the report’s conclusions on a few fronts. First, the link is based on the reasoning that saturated fat raises total cholesterol levels, but many studies suggest the link between higher cholesterol numbers and heart disease risk has been overstated. And while LDL is often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, there are different types of LDL, and the total number may be less important than the composition of the actual particles. Small, dense particles are inflammatory and associated with heart disease risk, while larger particles are not.
Another victim of the war on fat, butter has recently experienced a comeback as the benefits of butter become more widely known. The omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids found in butter help your brain function properly and improve skin health. More importantly, these two fatty acids are considered essential, meaning the body needs them but can’t produce them on its own; instead, they must be consumed from food sources. Butter is also rich in fat-soluble vitamins and trace minerals, including beneficial selenium, a powerful antioxidant. (9)
If you’re wondering about fat and its place in your diet, you’re not alone. Each year the International Food Information Council Foundation conducts a nationwide survey of Americans of all ages and backgrounds. When the results were released earlier this year, fat was found to be one of the biggest topics of nutritional confusion. Research around the importance of fats in the diet continues to grow and results repeatedly underscore the importance of a healthy meal plan that focuses on moderation vs. a restrictive diet. When it comes to healthy fats, here’s what you need to know.
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Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is found only in animal foods. Unlike fatty acids, it doesn’t provide energy. However, your body needs it in order to produce steroid hormones, vitamin D, and bile acids that help digest fat. All of your cells make cholesterol; in fact, most of the cholesterol in your blood comes from your body rather than the food you eat. Dietary cholesterol does not raise blood cholesterol levels much, if at all, nor does it increase heart disease risk.
So you might assume that fat is to blame for the obesity epidemic now plaguing our nation. Actually, fat is only part of the problem. Obesity is much more complicated than just overeating a single nutrient. Eating more calories -- from fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol -- than you burn off leads to weight gain. Simply put, people who get little physical activity and eat a diet high in calories are going to gain weight. Genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle also weigh into the weight-gain formula.
Why are trans fats bad for you, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats good for you, and saturated fats somewhere in-between? For years, fat was a four-letter word. We were urged to banish it from our diets whenever possible. We switched to low-fat foods. But the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
A handful of nuts goes a long way! They provide a protective benefit for heart health and contain what is known as good fat. Nuts help to burn calories more efficiently and are proven to add a satiety factor into your daily diet. This, Warren says, helps with not overloading on calories from other foods. A creative way to use nuts as salad add-ins is by whipping up a simple nut sauce made with almond butter to dress your salad. You can also chop a few of your favorites—almonds and walnuts are particularly good in salads—and sprinkle them in.
The healthy fats I want in your diet are the monounsaturated, found in olive oil, avocado, flaxseed oil, and nuts, and the polyunsaturated in the form of omega-3s, like fatty fish (tuna and salmon), walnuts, eggs, and chia seeds. (Skip polyunsaturated in the form of processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower, which are made up of mostly omega-6 fatty acids.) These healthy fats are linked to strong immunity, improved cardiovascular functioning, reduced inflammation, and improved brain functioning.
The body is able to turn ALA into usable DHA and EPA to some degree, but this isn’t as efficient as getting DHA and EPA directly from food sources that provide it. Even after extensive research, it’s not totally clear how well ALA converts into EPA and DHA or if it has benefits on its own, but health authorities, like those at Harvard Medical School, still consider all sources of omega-3s crucial in the diet. (20)
Smear some toast or apple slices with peanut butter and you have a breakfast or snack with staying power. The unsaturated fats in peanut butter help make the meal satisfying by making it take longer to digest, and it’s also packed with protein. Stick to natural peanut butter to avoid the added sugars and unhealthy partially hydrogenated fats that are added to other kinds of peanut butter.
Avocado: One of the most widely known healthy fats, avocado makes an ideal addition to any dish at breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's also perfect as a stand alone snack! This powerhouse of a superfood isn't only a monounsaturated fat – it's also loaded with folate, potassium, fiber and vitamins E, C and B6. Don't forget to cook the pulp and eat it as well- the avocado seed is loaded with essential vitamins too! Don't let it go to waste!