#TACTIX :: Fats, the good and the bad

What is the deal with fats in our diet?

Fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. They provide your body with energy, help you absorb vitamins, and protect your organs. Nearly 35% to 40% of our calories come from fat and are widely available in the food supply. Fats enhance the flavors of foods and provide that satisfying feeling after eating.

When it comes to dietary choices, fats have long been a source of confusion and controversy. Some people fear fats, associating them with weight gain and health problems, while others embrace them as an essential part of a balanced diet. To make informed choices, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions between bad fats, good fats, and great fats. Also, the role of fats, the good and the bad, in our bodies, and discover how to make healthier dietary choices.

Bad fats: The culprits

1. Trans fats

Trans fats are unquestionably at the top of the list of bad fats. This artificial fat is created through a process called hydrogenation, which turns liquid oils into a solid form. You’ll find trans fat in many processed and fried foods, such as margarine, commercial baked goods, and fast food.

Trans fat is notorious for its detrimental effects on health. They raise levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, often referred to as “bad” cholesterol, while simultaneously lowering HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. High LDL levels and low HDL levels are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Trans fat can also contribute to insulin resistance and is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes. Most are extensively found in frying, baked goods, cookies, icings, crackers, packaged snack foods, microwave popcorn, and some margarine.

2. Saturated fats

Saturated fats are another category of bad fats that are found mainly in animal-based products such as red meat, full-fat dairy, and poultry skin. They are also present in some plant oils like coconut oil and palm oil. Saturated fat is necessary for the body — but in small amounts.

Excessive consumption of this fat can lead to an increase in LDL cholesterol levels, contributing to the risk of cardiovascular diseases and many of the same problems as trans fat.  A dinner like steak or a potato salad, heavy on the eggs and mayo, would be high in saturated fat. This type of meal drives up total cholesterol and tips the balance to more LDL, or bad cholesterol. High LDL cause blood vessels to narrow and prompt blockages to form in the arteries. Choose lean cuts of meat and poultry for your meals.

While the connection between saturated fats and heart health isn’t entirely clear-cut, it’s wise to limit their intake and opt for healthier alternatives.

Good Fats: The balancers

1. Monounsaturated

Monounsaturated fats are considered one of the healthier types. They are abundant in foods like avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds. These fats are known to have a positive impact on heart health by helping to lower LDL cholesterol levels.

Monounsaturated fat is also a source of essential nutrients and antioxidants, promoting overall well-being. Incorporating these fats into your diet can be as simple as drizzling olive oil on your salad or enjoying a handful of almonds as a snack.

2. Polyunsaturated

Polyunsaturated fats, another group of good fats, can be further divided into omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (e.g., salmon and mackerel), flaxseeds, and walnuts, have gained recognition for their anti-inflammatory properties and heart-protective benefits.

Omega-6 fatty acids, on the other hand, are found in various vegetable oils, such as corn and soybean oil. While they are essential for our health, an imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 intake can contribute to inflammation, so it’s important to maintain a proper ratio.

Great fats: The superstars

1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids deserve a category of their own as they play a crucial role in promoting optimal health. They are found primarily in fatty fish, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Omega-3s have been associated with numerous health benefits, including:

  • Cardiovascular health: Omega-3s help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, triglycerides, and inflammation.
  • Brain health: These are vital for brain development and function, and they may lower the risk of cognitive decline.
  • Joint health: Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that can alleviate symptoms of conditions like arthritis.
  • Mood regulation: Some studies suggest that omega-3s may help with conditions like depression and anxiety.

To reap the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, consider incorporating fatty fish into your diet at least twice a week or adding flaxseeds and walnuts to your meals.

2. Unsaturated fat from whole foods

Beyond specific types of fats, it’s crucial to emphasize the importance of obtaining fats from whole, unprocessed sources. When we consume these in their natural state, they often come packaged with other nutrients, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals, that are beneficial for overall health.

For instance, avocados not only provide monounsaturated fats but also offer dietary fiber and potassium. Similarly, nuts and seeds offer a combination of healthy fats, protein, and various micronutrients.

Choose wisely

Understanding the differences between fats, the good and the bad, empowers us to make informed dietary choices that can significantly impact our health. While bad ones like trans and excessive saturated fat should be avoided, good fat like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated should be embraced as part of a balanced diet. Great fat, such as omega-3 fatty acids, offer a wide range of health benefits and should be a staple in our meals.

Instead of cooking in butter, try olive oil instead. Replace bacon and cheese on a sandwich with avocado, cucumber, tomato, zucchini slices, or water chestnuts. Or choose peanut or almond butter to top whole-grain toast or a whole-wheat bagel, in place of butter or cream cheese

Ultimately, the key to a healthy diet is moderation and variety. By including a diverse range of fats from whole, natural sources and being mindful of their quality, we can enjoy the culinary pleasures while nurturing our bodies for long-term well-being. At Chiropratix, we believe in a holistic approach that includes maintaining a healthy diet for your well-being. Learn more at your next visit.

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