Are you afraid of fats? If so, you’re not alone. Fat in foods has been vilified in America for the past few decades, as low-fat and non-fat foods became the norm and we were told that cutting even healthy fats out of the diet would help us get the body we want. In fact, it’s one of the biggest nutrition lies that the public’s been told throughout history.
For decades, doctors, nutritionists, and health authorities have told us that a diet high in saturated fats raises blood cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. However, recent studies have made headlines by casting doubt on those claims, concluding that people who eat lots of saturated fat do not experience more cardiovascular disease than those who eat less.
The guidance on saturated fat is a little more complicated. Old nutrition research said saturated fat was really bad for your cholesterol levels, but newer information suggests it has a more neutral effect. The topic is very touchy, and the USDA Dietary Guidelines and the American Heart Association still recommend limiting your intake and opting for monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats instead. Many of the healthy foods below have some saturated fat in them, but it doesn’t make up the majority of the fat content and won’t negate the positive effects of the healthier fats.
This blue-green alga, available in powders and supplements, is full of healthy omega-3s like EPA and DHA. Research shows that these forms of omega-3s are more active in the body than ALA at controlling inflammation and belly fat. Not only is spirulina a great source of heart-healthy fats, but it’s also super-rich in protein, a great source of probiotics, and may even be able to help flatten your belly during exercise.
Omega-3 fatty acids promote health in several ways. They reduce inflammation and lower the risk of chronic diseases including heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglycerides and apoproteins (markers of diabetes), and raise HDL (“good” cholesterol) levels (8). Omega-3 fats are also essential for brain and eye health (9).
The type of fatty acids that make up coconut oil’s saturated fat content is medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and are about 65% of its fat content. Unlike long chain fatty acids (the majority of fats in our diet) which must go through modification prior to being digested and absorbed in our bodies, medium chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract to the portal system. In other words, our bodies find it super easy to break down the fat before getting rapidly absorbed and used for energy by the body. Coming from a clinical background, MCT’s are very commonly used in treating people who have malabsorption issues, are on ketogenic diets, or are increasing calories without much volume.
Plus, subsequent studies have also found that picking the right types of fat and adding plenty of high-fat foods to your diet could actually bring some big benefits to your health. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that when subjects ate either a Mediterranean diet, low-fat diet or low-carb diet, those following a high-fat, low-carb meal plan not only lost the most weight but also drastically reduced their bad cholesterol levels. (2)
One way to combat inflammation is to eat more Omega 3s to help balance the ratio. But you can also look at your intake of omega 6s and try to cut back on those as well. Beef that is fed corn or grains is high in omega 6s (conversely grass-fed beef is high in omega 3s.) Safflower, sunflower corn, and cottonseed oils are all high in omega 6s. (Read labels for chips, crackers, cookies, and other processed foods, which often contain these oils.) Soybeans and corn are also high in omega 6s. Cutting back on processed foods and eating more cold water, high-fat fish can help get this ratio back in balance.
Saturated fats are found in animal products (meat, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, and eggs) and in vegetable fats that are liquid at room temperature, such as coconut and palm oils. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats to 10% or less of your total calories, while the American Heart Association recommends keeping them to just 7% of total calories.
Research supports the effectiveness of consuming more healthy fats. In a recent study of 60 people with mild abdominal obesity, researchers found that eating a high-monounsaturated-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet, which contains both monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fats, raised HDL cholesterol levels and lowered low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels. And a number of studies have shown that having a higher HDL level reduces the risk of heart disease and might also reduce the chances of plaque building up in the arteries.