Fats. Gone are the days where people believe that if they eat fat, they will gain fat. Now we know there is much more to it than this. But what are good fats? And likewise, what are bad fats? And more importantly, which foods contain each of these?
When you can understand how fats work and the place they hold in your diet plan, you can get a better idea of exactly how to align them up for optimal success.
Low-fat diets are out. You need fat to function optimally so it’s worth your while to understand this information.
Fats can do everything from accelerating your rate of fat loss to improving the way your brain functions.
Curious to know more?
Check out the video below for a brief primer on fats including the surprising truth about the olive oil you likely have sitting in your cabinet right now.
Now that you’ve been enlightened about some of the key information to know about good fats to eat, let’s look further at the many benefits that healthy fats have, the drawbacks of unhealthy fats and the sources of each that you must get into your diet or avoid entirely.
Benefits Of Good Fats
There are a great many benefits of good fats – benefits that once you know, you’ll soon see exactly why it’s a must that you add these into your diet plan.
- Hunger control
The first big benefit of having healthy fat in your diet is that they will go a long way towards managing your appetite.
If you’ve ever been on a very low fat diet before, you likely know all too well how hunger can take over. You eat a meal and 20 minutes later, your stomach is crying for food.
The reason for this was because fats slows down the digestion process, so when you consume no fat with your meal, you digest your food relatively rapidly. While you can ensure that you eat plenty of dietary fiber and protein, which also helps slow the digestion process, nothing slows it down like a good serving of 5-10 grams of dietary fat added in.
When you include this much dietary fat per meal, that meal will ‘stick to your ribs’ so to speak. You can expect to feel satisfied for a few hours to come.
- Food taste, texture, satiety
Which brings us to our next point, satiety. While hunger is one thing, feeling satisfied from the foods you eat is another.
Without fat in your menu, you’ll likely find that much of what you eat tends to taste like cardboard and that you psychologically are always dealing with food cravings.
Adding foods with good fats to your menu will help ensure your meals taste great and that you feel like you’ve been fully satisfied after each. Fats add plenty of texture to your dishes, so don’t underestimate this benefit.
This is one big reason why many people who follow very low fat diet plans fall off the bandwagon quickly. They just aren’t satisfied eating the foods on that plan.
- Cholesterol related benefits
Many people avoid fats because they are trying to maintain better control over their cholesterol levels and think that by having the fats, they are only going to see an increase in cholesterol levels.
While the wrong fats can definitely cause an increase to your cholesterol level, the right fats can actually help lower it.
When you eat foods from your good fats list, you’ll see a decrease in LDL cholesterol levels and an increase in HDL levels. This positions you to avoid cardiovascular disease. A study published in the Lancet journal noted that when subjects were put on a diet rich in olive oil, their serum cholesterol levels fell on average by 0.46 mmol/l while their HDL (good cholesterol) levels rose by 0.03 mmol/l and their triglyceride levels also fell by 0.06 mmol/l.
- Improved Brain health
Did you know that eating the right fats can also boost your brain’s health? The brain is primarily made up of fatty acids, so when you aren’t getting enough in your diet plan, guess what happens?
Your cognitive processing slows down and in addition to that, you may also come to find that you feel slightly foggy minded more often.
In addition to that, those who are missing out on the good fats of omega-3 fatty acids (more on that later!) are also going to be at a higher overall risk factor for depression.
Low fat diets have a tendency to ‘suck the life’ out of someone, so to speak, causing them to lose their emotional well-being and turn into what you might call a walking zombie.
Fats are essential for brain and mental health. What’s also critical is getting the right fats, or more specifically, the right ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Doing so is vital for the maintenance of normal brain function, as was illustrated by a study published in the Europe PMC journal.
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Inflammation is a greatly talked about subject today and for good reason. More and more people are falling ill due to inflammatory related issues, so learning what you can do to better control the levels in your body is essential.
Fats play a key role here. Eat the wrong fats and it can increase your levels of chronic inflammation, while if you eat the right fats, it can decrease your levels, especially those related to obesity as found one study published in the PLOS One journal.
Inflammation is connected to issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, as well as some central nervous system and psychological related disorders, so it’s something that can potentially impact just about everyone.
- Blood Sugar Control/Diabetes Management
Speaking of diabetes, this is the next area that the right fats can help. Diabetes is a condition that is brought on by heavily fluctuating blood glucose levels to the point where your body is unable to keep control over it.
Your cells become less sensitive to insulin, which is the primary hormone released to help manage blood sugar. As this happens, you develop pre-diabetes and then eventually go on to develop full-blown diabetes if something is not done to stop this.
How do healthy fats help?
They assist in two different manners.
First, healthy fats will help to combat diabetes because they help you maintain better control over your blood sugar levels. When you consume healthy fats with your meal, they will slow down the speed that digestion takes place.
This in turn means a slower release of carbohydrates into the blood stream, which means you don’t get the normal blood glucose spike from those carbohydrates that you otherwise would. If you pair your healthy fats with carbs that do digest slower in the body (or simply eat high fiber, low carb veggies), you will hardly see any increase in blood glucose at all.
This minimizes the insulin release and gives you full control.
The second way that healthy fats can help combat diabetes is due to their impact on insulin sensitivity. Eating the right healthy fats can increase insulin sensitivity, ensuring your body can better manage carbohydrates when you do consume them.
This is particularly true if you are consuming omega-3 fatty acids as well as coconut oil, both of which help to improve insulin sensitivity levels.
- Immune Health
Finally, getting the right fats in your diet can also improve your immune health as well. This is particularly the case once again for coconut oil, which helps boost your immune system and may also help to prevent disease, according to a study published in the Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine.
Likewise, unsaturated fats also help to strengthen your immune system and better prepare your body to fend off any invading bacteria or viruses that may be trying to enter your system.
So as you can see, eating plenty of foods of your good fats list will really go a long way towards shaping better health.
Now let’s quickly look at how eating the wrong fats can take away from good health.
Harmful Effects Of Bad Fats
You’ve seen what the right fats can do, but what about the wrong fats? What impact will they have on the overall status of your health?
- Increased Risk Of Cardiovascular Disease And Stroke
Bad fats are closely connected to your risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke. When you eat bad fats, your LDL levels will increase, changing your cholesterol profile for the worse.
Those who continue to eat these bad fats day after day will soon be at a very high risk for developing heart disease, stroke, or suffering from a full blown heart attach.
- Linked To High Blood Pressure
Along with putting you at risk for cardiovascular disease, the wrong types of fats will also increase your chances of suffering from high blood pressure as well.
As you continue to eat these bad fats, slowly they will start to form plaque on the artery walls, which will eventually serve to make it harder for blood to flow to and from the heart, potentially leading you to suffering from a heart attack.
If you are someone who is suffering from high blood pressure levels, one of the most common treatment suggestions by medical professionals is to decrease your intake of the unhealthy fats in your diet plan.
- Increased Risk Factor Of Developing Cancer
Cancer is a devastating disease that impacts a great number of people worldwide. While not everyone suffering is suffering because they ate the wrong types of fats, there is definitely a correlation between eating unhealthy fats in your diet and having a higher risk factor for contracting this illness.
One particular type of fat – trans fats, which we’ll talk about in a minute – is especially bad for putting you at risk for cancer.
The body has absolutely no need for this fat and all it’s going to do is put you in harm’s way.
Additionally, if you start to gain weight due to eating the wrong types of fats, this excess weight gain can also increase your risk factor for developing cancer as well.
- Higher Chance Of Obesity
Which brings us now to the next big issue with unhealthy fats – the higher risk of obesity. The body is not going to utilize unhealthy fats like it does the healthy ones because unhealthy fats don’t play key roles in supporting various bodily functions.
As fat is a very calorie dense nutrient and many of the foods high in unhealthy fats do have an addictive property to them, this puts you at risk for over-consuming calories, leading to increased weight gain.
While obesity does not occur just from eating too many unhealthy fats, that’s definitely a large part of the equation.
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Increased Levels Of Inflammation
Finally, as already noted above, eating the wrong types of fats is also going to put you at a high risk for inflammation as well. These fats tend to trigger inflammatory like conditions, so if you are already at risk for them, your chances of suffering will only increase.
In a world where we need to be doing everything possible to decrease our levels of inflammation, unhealthy fats simply have no place in our diet.
So there are a few of the negative implications that you will experience should you continue to eat the wrong fats in your diet plan.
The good news is that once you switch over to eating healthy sources of fats, you can start seeing a reversal of these negative effects quite quickly.
Let’s now go over what sources are best to eat and which ones you’ll want to avoid.
Your Good Fats List
There are four key types of good fats that you’ll want to be including in your daily diet plan. Let’s quickly look at each and go over the main sources where you can find the fat.
The first type of fat that you’ll want to be including in your daily diet plan is unsaturated fats. These fats contain just one double bond within the fatty acid chain and are the fats that are closely linked to decreased rates of heart disease, stroke, and improved cholesterol profiles.
Unsaturated fats are found in foods such as:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and nut butters
One important thing to note is that not all olive oils and nuts are created equally. With olive oil for instance, you want to try and find a pure olive oil that is made from the freshest selection of olives.
One good sign that your olive oil is not the healthiest varieties is if it’s bright yellow in color (olive oil should be closer to clear or a very pale gold type of color) and if it has a slightly peppery taste. If your olive oil possesses both of these traits, you can rest assured you have a good variety on your hands.
Likewise with nuts, you want to choose plain nuts. Don’t go for roasted nuts, salted nuts, flavored nuts, or any other variety of nut. Ideally, you also want to choose nuts with the skin on (as in the case of almonds, which often have the outer layer removed) as this is where some of the fiber content is found.
Next you have saturated fats. Saturated fats have gotten a very bad rap as many people often associated saturated fats with heart disease. And while eating too much saturated fat can definitely pose that problem, as long as you keep your intake in check, you won’t have to worry.
The good news about saturated fat is that it’s closely linked to hormonal health, so both men and women will benefit from getting it into their diet plan.
Men especially who decrease their saturated fat too much may notice a sharp decline in testosterone, which can really impact overall exercise performance.
Also note that one saturated fat in particular – coconut oil – is extremely beneficial to eat. There are a number of studies that illustrate that coconut oil can do everything from boosting your immune system to combating heart disease to improving the look of your skin, hair, and nails.
Coconut oil is a special type of fat known as a medium chain triglyceride, so this makes it slightly different than other forms of saturated fat out there.
One additional unique property of coconut oil is that it has a higher thermic effect of food, meaning you will get a slight spike to your metabolic rate when you consume it. This is unlike other fats, which are very efficient with the digestion process and give no spike to your metabolism.
When selecting your saturated fats, the most important thing to remember is that you want to, as much as possible, choose naturally occurring saturated fats. Eliminate any saturated fats that come from processed foods as these foods will typically have other things in them that you don’t want to be taking in.
The top sources of saturated fats in your diet include:
- Organic dairy products
- Grass-fed beef
- Coconut oil
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Next up on the list of good fats you’ll want to include in your diet are omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are the king of healthy fats so to speak as they offer the widest array of benefits.
These fats are also essential for the body, as the name suggests, and are not fats that you can manufacture yourself from other food sources. Therefore, taking them in through diet or supplementation is critical.
The omega-3 fatty acids are responsible for such things as combating depression, improving insulin sensitivity, enhancing your cholesterol profile, reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease, and for lowering inflammation as well. This is just the tip of the iceberg though – not enough can be said about the health benefits of these fats.
The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
You don’t find omega-3 fatty acids in concentrated amounts in many foods in the diet, which is why it’s vital that many people consider a smart supplement instead.
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Your Bad Fats List
Finally, one to the bad fats list. There are just two fats that you really want to be avoiding in your diet plan here.
The first is trans fats. Trans fats are essentially a man-made fat that is produced to increase the shelf life of many different food products on the market. Trans fats are closely linked to the increased risk factor for cancer development, heart disease, as well as increased levels of inflammation.
As this is a man-made fat, the body has absolutely no need for this fat in the diet and it’s best that you stay away from it entirely. If you see a food contains trans fats, your best bet is to return that product to the shelf.
Another code word for trans fats is ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oil’. So if you see this listed, you know that it’s not an ideal food for your diet plan.
The main sources of trans fats in the diet include foods like:
- Pizza crusts
- Frozen snack foods
- Deep fried foods
- French fries
- Granola bars
Basically, if it’s a food you know you shouldn’t be eating anyway, chances are, it contains trans fats.
Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Finally, the last of the fats to avoid are high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Now, you don’t need to avoid ALL omega-6 fatty acids, but you do need to minimize your intake.
Most people in today’s world have no trouble taking in enough of this fat, so there is no reason to seek it out, so to speak. What you really need to concern yourself with is the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Ideally your ratio should be somewhere between 1:1 and 1:4. Most people however can have ratios upwards of 1:20 or more.
We are simply taking in too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. This is linked to much higher levels of inflammation, which as we noted earlier, can set you up for a number of unwanted diseases.
So do your best to minimize your consumption of omega-6 fatty acids and you’ll likely take in what you need in the first place.
The main sources for omega-6 fatty acids in the diet include:
- Vegetable oils (safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oil)
- Salad dressings and mayonnaise
- Brazil nuts
- Fast foods
- Cookies, cakes, pastries, and other baked foods
- Pork products
- Eggs and butter
- Fatty cuts of chicken
- Non grass-fed beef
There you have a very detailed look at how fat fits into the picture of your diet plan. If you want to succeed with optimizing your health, it’s one topic that you need to strongly consider.
There’s no reason to cut fats out of your diet entirely, but you do definitely need to optimize your intake.
What has been your experience with fats? Share your thoughts on the best and worst fats below.
Mensink, RonaldP, and Martijnb Katan. “Effect of monounsaturated fatty acids versus complex carbohydrates on high-density lipoproteins in healthy men and women.” The Lancet 329.8525 (1987): 122-125.
DebMandal, Manisha, and Shyamapada Mandal. “Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.: Arecaceae): in health promotion and disease prevention.” Asian Pacific journal of tropical medicine 4.3 (2011): 241-247.
Rele, Aarti S., and R. B. Mohile. “Effect of mineral oil, sunflower oil, and coconut oil on prevention of hair damage.” Journal of cosmetic science 54.2 (2002): 175-192.
Cintra, Dennys E., et al. “Unsaturated fatty acids revert diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation in obesity.” PloS one 7.1 (2012): e30571.
Haag, Marianne. “Essential fatty acids and the brain.” Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie 48.3 (2003): 195-203.
Assunçao, Monica L., et al. “Effects of dietary coconut oil on the biochemical and anthropometric profiles of women presenting abdominal obesity.” Lipids44.7 (2009): 593-601.
Su, Kuan-Pin, et al. “Omega-3 fatty acids in major depressive disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” European Neuropsychopharmacology 13.4 (2003): 267-271.