Fats: the good the bad and the essential

We have recently started to understand the importance of various types of fats for good health and fat is no longer the evil that we once condemned it to be.

So what is the good news on fats?

What do they do for us?

And which fats should we be avoiding?

As the rule of balance comes into play again here, fats play a critical role in our health. General guidelines say that fats should make up about 20-35% of our daily macro nutrient intake. They support us with essential fatty acids, they are required for many regulatory functions within our bodies such as temperature regulation, they help to maintain a healthy complexion and transport the fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.

However, not all fats are equal though and some can do more harm than good.

The cholesterol story

LDL (Low Density Lipoprotein) is commonly referred to as the “bad cholesterol”.  When we have a diet high in this type of cholesterol plaque can build up in our arteries constricting blood flow and placing stress on the heart.  If this plaque becomes to thick it can lead to a complete blockage and without oxygen circulating we don’t survive.

Foods that will increase your LDL levels are foods high amounts of saturated fats.  Examples would be full fat dairy products, red meat, and eggs.  Simply shifting towards low fat dairy products, lean cuts of red meat and eggs in moderation will help you to lower the LDL.

HDL (High Density Lipoprotein) is commonly referred to as the “good cholesterol”.  These are the smallest and most dense type of lipoprotein as they contain the highest proportion of protein.  HDL plays a role in removing build up within the arteries and transport it back to the liver where it can be broken down, essentially a cleaner for our heart.  This is why this type of cholesterol is referred to as the “good cholesterol” and therefore an important part of a healthy diet.  We can increase our HDL levels by eating foods rich in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.  These types of fats we can find in nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish as well as some vegetable oils.

Transfatty Acids are even worse than saturated fats as they not only increase LDL levels they also hinder HDL (the good cholesterol).  Trans fats are found in small amounts naturally in meat and dairy products.  Trans fats may also be artificially manufactured and are also referred to as hydrogenated fats. They can be found in margarine, baked goods such as cakes, biscuits and muffins, potato chips and microwave popcorn to name a few.

Omega 3 & Omega 6 Balance

Essential Fats are important to our health and must be obtained from the diet.  In general the western diet is imbalanced in essential fats with too many Omega 6 fatty acids and not enough Omega 3. Omega 3 Fatty Acids can be obtained from eating foods such as oily fish, flax seeds and walnuts.

There has been a lot of recent interest in the role of omega 3s in our health.  Studies are showing the importance of  of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in heart health, brain function, and the treatment of inflammatory conditions, mental health conditions and many other areas.

Use cold pressed olive oil / fresh avocado on your bread instead of margarine or butter

Try a an almond nut spread instead of peanut butter

Replace read meats with oily fish  2-3 times a week

Skin off chicken may be tasty however it is full of unwanted saturated fats, stick with the meat.

Skin from a fish such as salmon or tuna is rich in omega 3s and good to eat.

The easy bottom line? Eat fresh produce over processed foods!