Fats: The Misunderstood Food Group
Fats constantly get a bad rap in our society, often being targeted as the cause of many health problems, including unhealthy weight gain and heart disease. It should be understood, however, that there are both good fats and bad fats, and good fats are essential to maintaining a healthy diet. Good fats are terrific sources of micronutrients and energy, all the while being a satiating food group that prevents overeating and, in the long run, promotes weight loss.
It sounds crazy, I know, especially in light of the common arguments usually made against eating fats. Let’s look at which fats are the best to cook with and consume and address some of the misconceptions about this undervalued food group.
Good fats include grass-fed animal fats and butter, olive oil, avocados and coconut oil. Butter and animal fats are natural saturated fats that not only contain vitamins such as A, D, E and K but are also essential in the absorption of other vitamins and minerals in the other foods you consume (Source). Saturated fat is also crucial in raising HDL, or good cholesterol, which is needed for cell function as well as brain function and actually reduces “bad cholesterol” or small particle LDL.
But saturated fat! Doesn’t that cause obesity and heart disease? This misconception that unfortunately keeps many people away from consuming healthy fats is not actually based on sound research at all. The most recent studies have shown that there is no significant evidence at all to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of stroke, coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease. The real culprits for our cardiovascular issues? Processed carbohydrates and sugars.
Other good choices for fat consumption are monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil and avocados. And last, but certainly not least, is coconut oil, whose praises I could sing for hours. Another of the misunderstood saturated fats, coconut oil is particularly good because it contains the medium chain fatty acid lauric acid, which boosts metabolism, helps fight off infection, decreases the risk of heart disease, increases energy levels and promotes weight loss, to name a few benefits.
So on to the fats that will end up hurting you: canola oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and pretty much anything that says “hydrogenated” or “refined.” Most of these oils are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids or omega-6. Now, I don’t want to hurt omega-6’s feelings—it isn’t actually a bad fat in its own right. The problems arise when we consume an excess of omega-6 in respect to our consumption of omega-3 (found in fish, grass-fed mammals and omega-3 eggs). A proper ratio is 1:1 or 1:2 omega-3s to omega-6s. Modern diets that are high in carbohydrates and sugars and low in healthy fats are upwards of a 1:10 ratio. This can cause all kinds of problems, as omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. In the right quantity, the pro-inflammatory qualities help fight infections, but in excess and combined with the issues caused by extreme carbohydrate consumption, particularly from grains, this can lead to inflammation, weight gain, heart disease, infertility and autoimmune problems (Source).
I hope this helps clear up some of the misconceptions about fats that may be hindering some of us from making healthy food choices. Remember—fats don’t make you fat! Processed carbohydrates, sugars, hydrogenated oils and high-fructose corn syrup are the real menaces.