There is so much confusion surrounding what constitutes a good and bad fat. What’s more, since the mid 70’s or so we’ve been told that fat is evil; to avoid it at all costs; that it plays a large role in the development of heart disease. Unfortunately, this was never true and was based on bad science. We now know that fats are incredibly healthful. They help our memory and cognitive function, they reduce our waistline, they balance our hormones and so much more. In fact, healthy fats are essential for:
- Regulating inflammation
- Balancing our hormones
- Reducing anxiety, depression and generally balancing out our moods
- Helping those suffering from ADHD
- Helping to balance our blood sugar and insulin levels
In fact our brain health suffers greatly when we go on a low fat diet. This is because our brains are primarily made up of fats or “phospholipids” (the simplest form of fat). When we eat a high-fat diet we produce ketones, which are great for brain health and can even be used to treat Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is actually now being termed “type 3 diabetes” because blood sugar regulation plays a crucial role in brain health and fats play a crucial role in blood sugar regulation. You can read more about this here.
So if fat doesn't cause heart disease, what does?
The answer is: sugar and carbs. An over consumption of sugar and carbohydrates in the last few decades has given rise to a huge increase in metabolic disorders such as pre-diabetes and diabetes and all the health consequences that come along with these conditions. Why have we been consuming so much sugars and so many carbs? It's all thanks to that low fat movement that was huge in the 80's and 90's but was based on poor science.
Which fats are good and which fats are bad?
I want to break this down for you as simply as possible so you understand which types of fats you should be making a priority in your diet. There are 4 types of fat:
- Trans fat
- Saturated fat
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
First of all lets talk about trans fats. trans fats are terrible. They are manufactured and our body's don't recognize them. Steer clear at all costs!
Now onto saturated fat. Saturated fat isn’t the evil villain that it’s been made out to be in recent times. Eating saturated fat does not contribute to heart disease in and of itself. When you eat carbs and sugar with saturated fat things get dangerous, but saturated fat is actually vital to good health. Saturated fats provide structure to our cell membranes essentially helping to keep the contents of our cells in place. Other things saturated fat can help with include:
- Strengthening the immune system
- Helping the lungs to work better by helping to produce “surfactant”, which helps air cross over our lung membranes
- Helping us to make hormones
- Aiding in the renewal and regeneration of nerve cells. In fact: good brain health depends on saturated fats
- Suppressing inflammation (unless eaten with sugar and carbs or unless you’re deficient in omega 3’s)
- Increasing our fat soluble vitamins because saturated fat contains these nutrients such as A, D, K2 and K
Monounsaturated (MUFA) fats are good for you too. They come from sources such as olive oil, macadamia nuts, avocados, olives, some fish, lard and beef tallow. They:
- Benefit the cardiovascular system (think “Mediterranean diet”)
- Improve cholesterol numbers and lower levels of LDL oxidation
- Reduce your risk of blot clots and strokes
- Are generally rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants
- Improve insulin sensitivity: reducing risk of metabolic dysfunction
- Reduce breast cancer risk
- Aid weight loss and reduce belly fat
- Reduce pain in people with rheumatoid arthritis
Polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats are of two main kinds: omega 6 and omega 3. These are considered “essential” because we need them in order to stay healthy. They play a role in:
- Cell communication
- Insulin regulation
- Inflammation regulation
- Neurotransmitter regulation
- Helping to prevent and treat diabetes, depression, arthritis, and autoimmune disease
Omega 6 and omega 3 are further categorised into:
- LA – linoleic acid (omega 6)
- ALA – alpha linoleic acid (omega 3)
And these are broken down even further into DHA, EPA, AA and GLA. But in this post I want to simply focus on omega 6 and omega 3's.
Both omega 6 and omega 3 fats are important but in our modern day diet we have been consuming far too many omega 6’s in processed foods by way of vegetable oils such as safflower, soy and corn oils. This has thrown what’s called our “omega 6 to omega 3 ratio” out of whack. This ration should be 1:1 or 4:1 at most (omega 6 to omega 3). But in today's world we are seeing this ratio shoot up to scary levels such as 25:1. Having an overload of omega 6’s in your system will promote inflammation in the body contributing to cardiovascular disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory conditions. Omega 3’s however, are anti-inflammatory and have been studied for their positive impact on:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Cognitive decline
- Skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis
- Colon, breast and prostate cancer
Great sources of omega 3’s include: flax, hemp, chia, walnuts, green leafy vegetables, algae oil and cold-water fatty fish (sardines, mackerel, herring trout, salmon, anchovies).
When it comes to oils you want to look for PUFAs that have a healthy omega 6 to omega 3 ratio and these include: flax oil, walnut oil and hemp oil. But, something of crucial importance: do NOT heat these oils. PUFAs develop very harmful free radicals when they’re subjected to heat, oxygen and light. These free radicals can damage tissue and promote all kinds of disease including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. Never ever heat your PUFA oils. The only oils you should ever cook with are saturated so think; coconut oil, ghee and butter.
If you have any questions please drop them in the comments section below.
In happiness and health,
- Eat Fat, Get Thin – Dr. Mark Hyman