Fats have gotten a bad rap. Cruise any supermarket aisle, and the promises of “fat free” and “no trans fats” leap from the shelf. Confused consumers trying to eat well mistakenly eschew any kind of fat - and think they’re doing their body a favor. The fact is there are good fats and bad fats and it is important to know the difference.
Here is something to chew on: eating the right kind of fat isn’t just delicious, but it is necessary for optimum health. Some fats are so important that they are called essential fatty acids, and are essential for proper cell function, brain functioning (especially in children), hormonal balance, for calming inflammation, and for maintaining healthy skin and hair.
Some fats can be harmful and choosing can be confusing – what’s the difference between saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans-fats anyway? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that fat consumption for adults should not exceed 30 percent of the day's total calories, but which types of fat you choose is important. Let’s chew the fat on the subject…
Saturated fats are found in meat and dairy products. These fats tend to raise the level of LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) in the blood and increase the risk of heart disease. Bacon, cream, butter and the like are best to be used in moderation, as they are loaded with saturated fat. It is suggested that saturated fat account for no more than seven percent of that total fat intake.
Most of your fat intake should be in the from of healthy, unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), which are extremely beneficial for the body. Research shows these good fats can also prevent depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, and some skin ailments.
Olive oil and canola oil are monounsaturated, while safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils are polyunsaturated.
The essential oil that most people don't get enough is the omega-3 fatty acids, the two most common types of these oils are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA), found in cold water fish or fish oil supplements; small amounts are also found in nuts, and some produce.
A regular diet of omega-3’s can reduce the risk of heart disease, hypertension, and stroke. Recent studies show these oils can slow the artery-hardening process that leads to coronary disease. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system, reduce inflammation and protect against an array of illnesses, including Alzheimer's disease.
The other fat common in the American diet, trans fats, has been making news recently, and for good reason. Also known as partially hydrogenated fat, trans fats not only increase the unhealthy LDL cholesterol on par with saturated fats, but they also lower levels of HDL cholesterol, the healthy cholesterol, thus increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. That’s a one-two punch that should be avoided. Trans fats are usually found in processed and packaged baked goods because they extend shelf life – and the products that contain trans fats are best avoided for a variety of health reasons.
Recent government rules requiring labels to list trans fats have resulted in many manufacturers phasing them out. For all of these reasons, many entities, including New York City, McDonalds, and the National Academy of Sciences, are trying to ban trans fats – something with the potential to keep us all lean and healthy.
- Calder PC. n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, inflammation, and inflammatory diseases. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6 Suppl):1505S-1519S.
- Kapoor R, Huang YS. Gamma linolenic acid: an antiinflammatory omega-6 fatty acid. Curr Pharm Biotechnol. 2006 Dec;7(6):531-4.
- Young G, Conquer J. Omega-3 fatty acids and neuropsychiatric disorders. Reprod Nutr Dev. 2005 Jan-Feb;45(1):1-28.
Third Party Links (Articles, Videos and Reference)
- In a video, Dr. Mercola talks about trans fats.
- For a great review of fats in your body, read: Fats You Need -- Essential Fatty Acids by Ben Best
- American Heart Association reviews: Fish oils and Omega-3 fatty acids.
- This is a great article on the Wild Oats site: Essential Fatty Acids.
Wider & Alternative Perspectives