Fat is not the enemy.
Well, dietary fat isn’t, anyway. Body fat is what we’re trying to eradicate, because it’s unhealthy and, to many people, unattractive. But nixing fats in the diet isn’t the way to go about it.
In fact, many body fat-burning benefits can be enjoyed simply by eating more essential fatty acids — that is, fats that the body does not produce and must get from food. The difference is the source: Avocado, eggs, fish — there are lots of food options for fat that are preferable to the ones we usually see and associate with “bad” fat. Even some animal fats (yes, saturated) are necessary from time to time. And, for the record, you never, EVER need to eat trans fats. That’s the easiest diet advice you’ll ever get.
We want to focus on the importance of dietary fats this week, breaking down the different types of fats and how they can make you either lose or (we hope not!) gain body fat. There’s a lot of “don’t eat this” advice out there, and somehow, perfectly healthy essential fatty acids have gotten dragged into the conversation. We mean to clear that up this week, showing you the foods and supplements that you can take to fill in the dietary gaps you might have.
Today’s lesson: Not all fats are created equal. There are many that are great for the body. But if you’re looking for a place to start hacking and slashing, feel free to eliminate those aforementioned trans fats — derived from oils injected with hydrogen to make their shelf lives last longer, these fats are an abomination. Basic rule: If it comes in a wrapper or package, and contains “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients, just leave it on the shelf.
Found in olive oil, nuts, red meat, dairy, avocados and even some grains, monounsaturated fats are the most commonly consumed form of fats, particularly in non-Western diets. In the Mediterranean, for example, these fats can comprise a huge percentage of the typical diet — in Crete, according to one article, monounsaturated fats make up about 40 percent of the daily diet (mostly from olive oil), while its people enjoy a markedly decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
The other big benefit of this type of fat is its correlation to cholesterol in the body. Research indicates that monounsaturated fats contribute to lower LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, with the possibility of raising HDL (healthy) cholesterol. We can’t stress this enough: Eat your natural, healthy fats! A handful of almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews or yes, even olives, can make a big difference daily.
These fatty acids are another source you want to involve in your diet, especially as a means of eliminating or limiting other, less healthy fats (like saturated and trans fats). ALA, DHA and EPA , and omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, are part of the polyunsaturated family and can be found in nuts, seeds, fish and leafy greens, with the emphasis on the fish — fish oil is a major provider of healthy fats, whether it’s taken in supplement form or with a diet that has plenty of seafood.
A recent study from the National Institute of Health found that these fats have a direct correlation to a lower risk of heart attack, and the Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine has suggested that omega-6 acids can prevent cardiovascular disease. Meanwhile, previously mentioned DHA is essential for organ function — particularly in the brain. Fats in general are necessary for skin, hair, nail, brain and sex organ function and health.
Again, here’s where to start cutting and slashing if you’re trying to get calories and fat out of your diet. Trans fats are, quite simply, a dietary abomination and have no worthwhile role in a healthy person’s diet. Almost universally shown in research to lead directly to elevated bad cholesterol levels and increase risk of coronary heart disease, trans fats are unnatural, unhealthy and unnecessary.
Most of what we need to know about trans fats comes from how they’re made. Because natural fats eventually spoil, food companies long ago discovered that they could sell more of their product if their product stayed on the shelf longer. To do this, they came up with a way to prevent fats that held up better over time — they took poly- or monounsaturated oils, infused them with hydrogen, and voila: They had a solid fat that could be chemically altered to taste delicious and preserve shelf life exponentially.
Of course, these fats are horrific on our bodies. In 1994, the American Journal of Public Health released a report indicating that up to 20,000 deaths occurred because of coronary heart disease in relation to increased trans fat consumption. On your labels, these are known as “partially hydrogenated oils,” and the FDA has very loose guidelines on how honest food manufacturers have to be in admitting use of trans fats. Zero grams on the label only means that there is no more than .49 grams per serving size — but with something as deadly and dangerous as trans fats, a little goes a long way.
On top of the increased risk of coronary heart disease, trans fat consumption is directly related to myriad health problems, including Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction and more.
So, how can you get rid of trans fats in your diet? The first step should be to avoid processed or pre-packaged foods. When doing your grocery shopping, stick to the perimeter of the store as much as possible — produce and meat is where you’ll find whole foods, not ones injected with hydrogenated oils. Failing that, read your labels, and not just the nutrition facts — check out the ingredients, too. Partially hydrogenated oils are a dead giveaway.