Fats have been demonized for the longest time. Even today, thousands of individuals and sources demonize the poor nutrient and suggest that we should cut all fat from our diet.
But, the truth is that mounting evidence suggests that fats are integral to our health and wellbeing.
Today, we’ll discuss why fats are important and where you should be getting them from.
What Are Dietary Fats?
Dietary fats are organic molecules made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. Depending on their structure, fats come in three categories – saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. We are ignoring trans fats as those are not important to your body and should be avoided.
Saturated fats are common in the American diet. They are solid at room temperature — think cooled bacon grease. Common sources of saturated fat include red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods.
The word “saturated” here refers to the number of hydrogen atoms surrounding each carbon atom. The chain of carbon atoms holds as many hydrogen atoms as possible — it’s saturated with hydrogens.
Is saturated fat bad for you? A diet rich in saturated fats can drive up total cholesterol, and tip the balance toward more harmful LDL cholesterol, which prompts blockages to form in arteries in the heart and elsewhere in the body. For that reason, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day.
Monounsaturated fats have a single carbon-to-carbon double bond. The result is that it has two fewer hydrogen atoms than a saturated fat and a bend at the double bond. This structure keeps monounsaturated fats liquid at room temperature.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts.
Although there’s no recommended daily intake of monounsaturated fats, the Institute of Medicine recommends using them as much as possible along with polyunsaturated to replace saturated and trans fats.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them. So, you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
A polyunsaturated fat has two or more double bonds in its carbon chain. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. The numbers refer to the distance between the beginning of the carbon chain and the first double bond. Both types offer health benefits.
Eating polyunsaturated in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.
You can also use supplemental omega-3 like this to make sure you get enough in your diet.
General Rule of Thumb
Based on what type of fat they are, they can have different effects within our body. As far as the health effect of fats goes, researchers have come up with a general rule of thumb:
If a fat comes from unprocessed food (fatty fish, avocado, etc.), then its effects are mostly good. If the fat comes from processed goods (potato chips, cookies, etc.), then it’s best to limit them.
Now that we have a basic understanding of fats, let’s take a look at what they do for us.
Why Fats Are Important
Fats are vital to our health and wellbeing. Some of their functions include:
They aid the production of hormones, enzymes, and cells;
Fat intake and healthy fats are essential for hormone production and maintenance of proper hormone function. Omega-3 fat sources, will aid in the rebuilding of cells and stabilization of hormones.
They maintain our brain health;
Did you know up to 70 percent of our brain is made of fat? Fat is very important for proper brain function, but it needs to be the right kind of fat. We need to get enough omega-3 fatty acids because these are the essential building blocks of our brain and they’re important for learning and memory.
They are vital for our cardiovascular system;
Omega-3s are good for your heart and blood vessels in several ways.
- They reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood.
- Omega-3’s reduce the risk of developing an irregular heart beat.
- They slow the buildup of plaque, a substance which hardens and blocks your arteries.
- Omega-3’s help to slightly lower your blood pressure.
They support our metabolism;
Especially in people who are active. Training increases the capacity of muscles to use fat as an energy source. During prolonged exercise an increase in fat metabolism takes place, improving endurance capacity.
They keep us full after meals and prevent us from overeating.
Fats are the last to leave the digestive tract and thus provide satiety. That means that they can help us feel fuller longer and keep us from overeating or excessive snacking.
Some research even suggests that getting enough dietary fats is vital for our mental health, and it can help treat and prevent depression. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats have recently been linked to reduced incidence of dementias and improved memory performance later in life.
As a whole, fats are important for our health, wellbeing, energy, and fitness results.
How to Get More Fats In Your Diet
Here are some of the healthiest fat sources you should add to your grocery list:
- Fatty fish, which is also vital because it provides us with the much needed omega-3 fatty acids;
- Whole eggs;
- Olives and extra virgin olive oil;
- Coconut and coconut oils;
- Seeds and nuts;
- Full-fat yogurt;
- Dark chocolate.
If you are avoiding fat to try and lose weight here are some better options!
Use a food tracking app like this one to get to your goal weight without cutting nutrients from your diet. This one lets you choose how much weight you are trying to lose from week to week!
Start a training plan or pick up a physical activity to burn some extra calories throughout the day.
Hopefully this article has shown you why fats are important! If you have further questions, just leave them in the comments below.