Fats are back! The wave of “low-fat” items is slowing dissipating and in its place an influx of “healthy fat” options! As wonderful as it is to see there is still some confusion on what exactly a “healthy fat” is, how much we should be consuming, and when we should be consuming these fats.
Firstly, fats are essential for life; we must take in a particular amount in order to survive and thrive. Dietary fats play several roles in the body, including but not limited to:
- Helping to transport our fat-soluble vitamins into our cells (ADEK, Iron, and beta-carotene)
- Helping to maintain a consistent body temperature
- Certain healthy fats act as potent anti-inflammatory agents.
- Improving our cardiovascular health
- Providing a source of long-lasting energy
- Helping to improve body composition
- Supporting hormone balance and boosting recovery from intense workouts.
- Improving cognitive function
- Helping to boost our immune system
- Improving bone and skin health
In Part 1 we’ll examine two types of dietary fat: Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated
Monounsaturated fats are our simplest form of fats. The chemical structure contains one double bond, they are often liquid at room temperature and are essential to take in through our diets (we do not produce them internally). The most common and easily recognizable monounsaturated fat source is olive oil, containing the fatty acid oleic acid which has been associated with decreasing cardiovascular disease, improving brain function and decreasing body fat. Other great sources of monounsaturated fat include nuts, avocados, whole milk etc.
Polyunsaturated fats are similar to monounsaturated fat but with some unique qualities, including the existence of several double bonds in their chemical make-up. Both Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated have anti-inflammatory properties, both can improve cardiovascular and cognitive function.
The major difference is that Polyunsaturated fats contain Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids have several anti-inflammatory benefits and can be found in wild salmon, mackerel sardines, krill or plant-based sources like flax seeds, chia and hemp seeds.
On the other hand, Omega 6 fatty acids can be anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory depending on the specific type, personal predisposition and overall toxic load amongst other things. They are very vulnerable and delicate to heat and oxidation and can trigger an inflammatory cascade within the body if mismanaged. In a traditional Western diet, most Omega 6’s are consumed via refined oils. Examples of refined oils – altered from their original state- containing Omega 6’s include, Safflower, Canola, Soy, Corn, and Sunflower. The goal is to consume a balanced amount of Omega 3’s to 6’s for optimal benefits, avoiding refined oils.
In Part 2 we will be discussing the other two types of fats receiving a lot of mainstream attention: Saturated and Trans Fats.