Logic dictates that fats make us fat. Only, in this case, logic fails.
Fats have forever been seen as the bad guys. The “Queens (or King) of the Scandals”, “Breakers of Abs”, “Leaders of the First Weight Gain”. But that’s just it. Fats have only been painted as the bad guys by many players in the food industry for various mostly selfish reasons, but are in fact the misunderstood good guys. You know, like the Beast from “Beauty and the Beast”! Studies1 have in fact found that fats do not make people fat. (Whoa! Did the world just stop spinning there for a second?) In truth, many complex processes are in play when it comes to weight gain, and while we should by no means go overboard with fats, there is no need to give them the proverbial cold shoulder when it comes to our diets.
What Are Dietary Fats?
So what, then, are fats really? Well, fats are one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and proteins) and a major component of the food we consume. Being a macronutrient, it is one of the building blocks of the human body, and believe it or not, is actually needed in large quantities for its overall well-being, due to which they’ve earned the name “macro”.
Like proteins and carbohydrates, fats are organic compounds that are made up of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon. These macronutrients provide energy or calories to the body.
Thing is, all macronutrients are not built equally. Each of the macronutrients provides different amounts of energy to the body. Fats contain 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and proteins contain 4 calories per gram. All fats comprise unsaturated and saturated fatty acids, the two categories created depending on the amount of fatty acids they contain.
Though fats have a reputation worse than Michael Corleone, they are in fact a very vital nutrient that enables our body to function efficiently. Experts claim that eating the right amount of dietary fat in the right form is the key to good health2. While fats are essential for the body to function properly, too much of it can be also harmful and may cause health problems3.
The fats obtained by your body from the food you eat provide the body with linoleic and linolenic acids that are essential fatty acids that the body cannot manufacture by itself. The body requires these fatty acids for various vital functions4.
Function of Fats
Fats are essential for good health, but as always, moderation is key. Fats and oils, also known as lipids, provide the body with fatty acids that play vital structural and metabolic roles in physiology5. Not only does fat provide energy, it maintains the core body temperature6 and also helps to absorb important nutrients, such as vitamin e7.
Though you must consume fats for your body to support these vital functions, you must keep in mind that some fats are “healthy” and good for you, while others are just the opposite. Good fats keep your body healthy and protect your heart, while “unhealthy” or bad fats can damage the heart and increase the risk of diseases. Here we will take a look at the role fats play in keeping us healthy.
- Energy: Carbohydrates are the main source of energy for the body. However, when carbohydrates are not available, the body turns fat into a backup energy source. Fats are the most concentrated source of energy, and 1 gram of fat supplies 9 calories, which is twice the amount you get from carbs and certain proteins (that have only 4 calories).
- Absorption of Vitamins: Vitamins such as A, D, K and E are called fat-soluble vitamins and rely on fats for their absorption and storage8. This means that these vitamins cannot function if your intake of fat is not adequate, and if you don’t have these vitamins in adequate quantities in your body, you’re in quite some trouble! Vitamin A is necessary for healthy eyes and good vision9, vitamin D helps to absorb calcium10 thereby keeping your bones strong11, vitamin D neutralizes free radicals and protects cells12, and vitamin K is essential for blood clotting13. So as you can see, if the daily fat intake is low or you follow a very low-fat diet, then the absorption of these vitamins may be hampered, which can result in some serious bodily damage!
- Insulation: As mentioned earlier, the fats stored in the adipose tissue in the body helps to insulate the body and maintain the normal core body temperature14. The fat also protects the inner core from sudden and extreme changes in the weather. When the temperature of the skin drops significantly, the fat deposits in our body generates and releases heat that raises the body temperature. In addition, other fats stored by the body surround the vital organs in the body and keep them well-protected and cushion them from external impact or sudden movement15.
- Structural Functions: Cell barriers play a very important role by controlling the substances that enter or exit the cells. Since they are water-repellent, fats can act as cell barriers. Fats also provide structure to the cell membranes and also to lipoproteins that help to transport fatty compounds, such as cholesterol, through the bloodstream16.
- Other Functions: Fats functions as “signaling molecules” that help the cells to communicate with each other in order to ensure proper body function17. Fatty acids also regulate gene expression and act like hormones to control protein production by the cells18. Also, you may not need that botox filler to look a million dollars, as fats help to skin health19.
Fats also aid in normal growth and development. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is a fatty acid that is vital to the development of the brain and retina in infants and children20. Fats are also responsible for making hormones, and help to regulate the production of sex hormones in the body21. It is also a key component in prostaglandins that are hormone-like substances, which regulate many functions of the body22. Last but definitely not the least, your delicious steak wouldn’t be half as delicious without its fat content! Fats add texture to foods and make them more flavorful.
Good vs Bad Fats
Fats can be categorized as:
- Unsaturated Fats (Good Fats)
- Omega -3 Fatty Acids
- Omega-6 Fatty Acids
- Monounsaturated Fats
- Polyunsaturated Fats
- Saturated Fats (Bad Fats)
- Trans Fats (Bad Fats)
Broadly speaking, fats can be divided into two sub-groups: unsaturated fats and saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are the good fats. These guys can cut the risk of heart disease as well as lower the cholesterol level23. Saturated fats are their unhealthy cousins.
But that’s not all! There is also a third category: trans fats or the trans-unsaturated fatty acids, the silent killers! Though they are unsaturated, trans fats are highly harmful.
Here we take a look at different kinds of fats and try to understand which ones should be a part of our diet and which should be banned from the menu.
As we’ve said quite a few times already (but it bears repeating), unsaturated fats are considered to be good fats. They can be further categorized as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. The former refers to fats in which each molecule has only one unsaturated carbon bond, whereas the latter has multiple unsaturated carbon bonds.
Consumed in moderation, monounsaturated fats can reduce the risk of heart disease, help to reduce cholesterol levels and have a host of other health benefits24. These good fats are generally in a liquid state at room temperature, but solidify when chilled. Olive oil, for example, is a good source of monounsaturated fats and it is believed that Mediterranean countries have a lower heart disease rate because people there consume a lot of olive oil. Other sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, nuts, sesame seeds and oil, canola oil, and peanut oil, to name a few in a very long list.
Monounsaturated fats also provide the body with Vitamin E, which acts as an antioxidant, protecting the cells from free radicals25. Vitamin E also boosts the immune system26, fights skin-ageing27 and prevents hardening of the arteries28.
Polyunsaturated fats help to lower the levels of triglyceride as well as blood cholesterol29. Polyunsaturated fats can be categorized into two groups: Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are really quite the rage. Almost every product these days claims to be heart-healthy and omega-3 enriched. But what really is an omega-3 fatty acid? A kind of polyunsaturated fat that is essential for cardiovascular health, omega-3 fatty acids have a role in producing the hormones that control blood clotting as well as relaxation and contraction of arteries. These fats are also part of the cell membrane. According to some studies, Omega-3 fats may play a protective role in certain cancers as well30. The Heart Foundation recommends 500gms of Omega-3 daily for adults to reduce the incidence of heart disease.
Omega-6 fatty acids are every bit as popular these days as their cousins, the omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are essential fats that are necessary for good health31, but the body does not produce these fats and must therefore be obtained from the food that we consume. Omega-6 fats play a very vital role in growth and development and brain function32 and reduce the risk of heart disease33. They are also important for hair, skin and bone health34 and in regulating metabolism. The American Heart Foundation recommends that at least 5-10 percent of calories must come from Omega-6 fatty acids.
Bad fats are fats that should ideally not be a part of your diet. While saturated fats are unhealthy, the kind of fat that you should really be wary of is trans fat.
If you’ve been told that saturated fats are bad for you, know that they have earned a bad reputation for a reason. These are fats with no double bonds, which mean there are no unsaturated carbon bonds in the molecules. Instead, they are saturated with hydrogen molecules. Saturated fats are held responsible for clogging the arteries, raising the cholesterol level and increasing the risk of heart attack. They can also raise the risk of prostate and colon cancers35.
Saturated fats are generally solid at room temperature. They are mostly abundant in animal products like eggs, poultry skin, meat, and fatty dairy products like whole milk, butter and cream. Coconut oil and palm oil are primary sources of plant-based saturated fats and are slightly healthier than animal-derived saturated fats36.
You’ve surely heard of trans fats before. These guys are so omnipotent and omnipresent that they could give global warming a run for its money (not that we think global warming is anything to joke about because obviously, we’ve at least accepted that it exists!). Trans fats are a kind of unsaturated fats that are not abundantly available in nature. Natural trans fats are produced in the gut of certain animals, and the milk and meat of such animals are likely to have trace amounts of this fat. Small amounts of naturally-occurring trans fats are not considered very harmful. However, industrially-produced trans fats, made by partially hydrogenating vegetable oils for use in margarine, spreads, fast foods, shortening, bakery products, and basically every kind of junk food there is, are very unhealthy.
Trans-unsaturated fatty acids have unsaturated carbon bonds in a trans-geometric configuration. Science jargon aside, this means that they can be found in most fried and processed foods. Trans fats are widely used in the packaged food industry as they are cheaper, easy to produce and increase the shelf-life of the products. These fats are also responsible for giving the foods a desirable texture. Also, commercial kitchens often use trans fat-rich oils because they can be used again and again.
Trans fats are considered unhealthy and can be quite harmful as they lower the good HDL cholesterol level and push the bad LDL cholesterol level and triglycerides up37. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that your total calories must be less than 1% from trans fats and less than 7% from saturated fats. Therefore, if you consume a diet of 2,000 calories daily, you should eat less than 2 grams of trans fats and around 120 calories i.e. less than 15 grams of saturated fats.
Why Are Fats Bad?
It is a well-known fact that fat intake is linked with risk of stroke and heart disease38. Diets high in “unhealthy” fats such as saturated and trans fats raise the blood cholesterol levels in the bloodstream and result in clogged arteries that block oxygen-rich blood from flowing to the heart and brain.
How Much Fat Should You Consume?
The amount of daily fat requirement of your body depends on your calorie requirement. The calories provided by fat are 9 calories per gram. So for example, if you are consuming 1,600 calories per day, then your fat requirement is 36-62 grams, if you are consuming 2,000 calories per day then the fat requirement would be 44-78 grams and when consuming 2,600 calories daily, you will require 58-101 grams of fat. Yes, that’s quite a bit of Math, but a few calculations can help you go a long way, how much ever you might have detested the subject! The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends that adult men require 2,000-3,000 calories per day, while women require 1,600-2,400 calories daily to maintain a healthy weight. Specific calorie requirements depend on your size and level of activity.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recommends that:
- Infants up to 6 months require 40-60 percent of energy from fat. The high-fat content aids in growth, brain development and tissue deposition.
- For children of age 6-24 months, the fat intake must be reduced to around 35 percent of energy.
- After the age of 2 years, children, as well as adults should consume around 25-35 percent of calories from fat.
Cutting out Unhealthy Fats from Your Diet
Foods such as butter, cheese, sausages and desserts may be tantalizing to your taste buds and more seductive than Kaa, but are very unhealthy for your body as they are loaded with cholesterol and saturated fats. Like we said, eating too much of these kinds of foods can lead to high cholesterol levels and heart disease.
So what do you do? Make healthy food choices! How? Remember that many drops make an ocean. Rumi-like philosophy aside, start small and make basic changes to your diet. For example, you can use “heart-friendly” olive oil or canola oil instead of butter for cooking. Instead of whole milk or 2% milk, shift to low-fat or fat-free milk. Eat leaner cuts of meat. The possibilities are numerous with the right sprinkling of willpower and determination!
Making Healthier Food Choices
For various foods that are high in “bad” fats and are harmful to your health, you can make healthier choices and substitute the unhealthy foods with healthy ones.
|Food Group||Cut out the Unhealthy Foods||Substitute with Healthier Choices|
|Meat, Fish and Poultry||Regular ground beef, fatty or highly marbled cuts, sausage, hot dogs, spare ribs, organ meat, poultry (with skin), bologna, salami, fried chicken, fried fish, fried shellfish, and lunch meat||Extra-lean ground beef (97% lean), baked fish, skinless chicken, ground turkey breast (without skin), low-fat or fat-free lunch meats, and meats with fat trimmed off before cooking|
|Dairy Products and Eggs||Whole milk and 2% milk, non-dairy creamer, whole-milk yogurt, cream, half-and-half, sour cream, ice cream, most cheeses, cream cheese, whipping cream, whipped topping, and whole-milk cottage cheese||low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk and cheeses, egg substitutes, egg whites, low-fat or non-fat yogurt|
|Fats and Oils||Butter, coconut oil, palm oil, stick margarine, lard, shortening, peanut butter (hydrogenated), bacon and bacon fat||Olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, natural peanut butter (not hydrogenated), and soft margarine (with no trans fats)|
|Bread and Cereals||Bread (containing eggs, fat, or butter), pastries and muffins (store bought), high-fat crackers, and granolas (fat-free or low-fat)||Choose whole grains as much as possible. Regular breads, corn tortillas, pasta, cereals, rice, and low-fat crackers|
|Fruits and Vegetables||Fried vegetables, vegetables (cooked with butter, cheese or cream sauce), and coconut||All fruits and vegetables (no added fat)|
|Sweets and Desserts||Ice cream, chocolate candy, pies, doughnuts and cookies (made with coconut oil, palm oil or hydrogenated oil), and cakes (store-bought)||Fruit, frozen yogurt, cakes and cookies (made with unsaturated fats and/or those made with cocoa powder), and low-fat or nonfat ice cream|
Tips to Make Your Meals Healthier
- Pile on the whole grains, veggies and fruits.
- Make dishes using healthy options such as brown rice, dried beans, whole wheat pasta, and veggies.
- Use meat as a side dish instead of it being the main component of your meal.
- Remove the fat from the meats before cooking them. When roasting or browning the meat, drain off the fat.
- Use cooking methods that use little or no fat such as steaming, grilling or broiling. Using a cooking spray instead of cooking oil is a great idea. If you do use cooking oil in your cooking, then make use of a monounsaturated oil such as olive oil or canola oil.
- Eat fish as much as twice a week for more Omega-3 fatty acids. Add walnuts to your salads and sprinkle ground flax seed powder on your smoothies, soups and cereals.
- Chill the stews and soups after cooking them as the fat becomes hard on chilling and can be drained off.
- When you are baking breads, muffins or cakes, you can substitute a part of the fat i.e. butter, oil or margarine with applesauce, or you can use canola oil instead of shortening or butter.
- Read food labels on packaged, canned or bottled foods carefully before purchasing them. Choose foods with small amount of saturated fats and no trans fats.
- When you are eating out, order boiled, poached, steamed or broiled foods instead of breaded and fried foods, as restaurants commonly use hydrogenated oils or trans fats for frying foods.
- Cut back on the margarine or butter on bread and use olive oil instead.
- When ordering pasta, choose tomato sauce instead of cream sauce. Use salsa instead of butter, cheese, bacon or sour cream with baked potatoes.
When someone says “fat-free”, the first assumption is that it’s going to be healthy and is a godsend! Tending to think that fat-free foods are healthy since they do not contain any fat, we inevitably end up bingeing on such foods. Well, surprise, surprise! Fat-free does not really translate to being healthy or being the best choice. Fat-free chips, candies, cookies and frozen desserts are still very high in sugar and calories. Surprisingly, some fat-free foods contain more calories than their regular counterparts. The key is eating even fat-free foods in moderation.
Myths About Dietary Fat
Eating Fat Will Make You Fat
If you haven’t gotten this part already, let us explain once again. Fat does contain twice the number of calories per gram when compared to proteins and carbs; however, you will not become fat by including “healthy” or the right kind of fats as part of your balanced diet. Also, the kind of fat that your body stores is very different from the kind you eat.
In fact, fat takes more time to be digested than carbs and it stimulates the satiety hormones that keep you full and can stop you from overeating39. This prevents you from consuming extra calories from other sources of food. Hence, eating fat can actually help to manage your weight.
Fat is a vital nutrient that the body requires. Like we said, it helps in absorption of vitamins that are required to maintain skin and hair health, optimal functioning of the brain, production of hormones, and also absorption of nutrients. Our body simply cannot function efficiently without fats, so don’t love to hate fats!
There Are Only Two Kinds of Fat: Good and Bad
You have always been told that saturated and trans fats are bad for you, while unsaturated fats are the healthy ones. However, that’s not true. There are 7 categories of fat that range from “good for health” to “quite harmful”. Shocked, yet? To make life a little easier, we’ve listed the fats from the most to the least healthy.
- Omega-3 Fats: Reduces the risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s and also helps to boost brain power40. Examples of food rich in Omega-3 fats are salmon and flaxseeds.
- Monounsaturated Fats: Helps to burn the food that you consume more efficiently and prevents metabolic disease41. Foods rich in monounsaturated foods are olive oil and avocado.
- Polyunsaturated Fats: Small quantities of polyunsaturated fats can reduce the risk or type-2 diabetes42 and heart disease and also lowers cholesterol levels, as mentioned before. Canola oil and walnuts are foods rich in polyunsaturated fats.
- Saturated Fats: These do not promote nor prevent heart disease. Foods such as meat and cheese are rich in saturated fats.
- Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs): These increase the risk of heart disease43. Foods rich in MCTs are macadamia nuts and coconut oil.
- Omega-6 Fats: Too much of Omega-6 can cause inflammation and raise the risk of heart disease44. Omega-6 fats are found in oils such as corn oil and sunflower oil.
- Trans Fats: Trans fats are the most harmful among the fats. As we told you earlier, they clog the arteries and liver and cause heart disease. Trans fats are usually found in foods such as margarine and baked goods, to name a few.
Trans Fats Will Not Kill You
When consumed, trans fats get stored in the body, so even small amounts of trans fats can lead to shortening of life45. In fact, trans fats are not digested by the bacteria which is the reason they are used in many products to increase their shelf-life.
Consuming resilient fat such as trans fats is very harmful as the body cannot digest it and it lines the liver and arteries and raises the risk of several ailments such as cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease.
Foods That Claim to Contain “0 Grams Trans Fats” Are Safe to Consume
Legally, foods with less than 0.5 grams of trans fats can claim to be 0 grams of trans fats on their nutrition labels. Loopholes of law, for the win! However, if you consume 4 servings of food with less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, you end up consuming 2 grams of trans fat, which may make the law and manufacturer a winner, but ultimately the loser is you. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated oil” on the food label, it means that the food contains trans fats and is best avoided.
If You Eat Less Saturated Fat, You Will Be Healthier
For years, saturated fats have been getting a bad rap. We have been told that the saturated fats contained in red meat, cheese and butter can clog your arteries and cause heart attacks. In fact, these fats neither cause nor prevent heart disease.
It is true that people eating more saturated fats from butter and meats that are high in fat have a greater risk of heart disease. However, replacing the saturated fats with sugary foods and foods with refined carbs can have the same repercussions46. Consuming a diet that is filled with refined carbs is as dangerous as a diet rich in saturated fat from meats and other foods since refined carbs are stored in the body as fat.
Dairy Products That Are High in Fat Are Unhealthy
Studies show that dairy products contain a rare form of fat that is absorbed in a different manner by the body than fat from other foods47. People who consume full-fat dairy products are less likely to develop type-2 diabetes48, suffer from high blood pressure50 and possibly live longer than those who do not consume dairy products at all or consume low-fat varieties.
Olive Oil Is the Healthiest Oil
Olive oil is generally considered “super healthy”, but only as long as it is not heated. At high temperatures, the monounsaturated fats contained in the olive oil can transform into trans fats or saturated fats, which are harmful51. For cooking at high temperatures, it is better to use peanut, sesame or avocado oils.
Salad Dressings Are Unhealthy as They Are Full of Fat
To absorb the healthy nutrients in the salad, the body requires dietary fat. Topping your salad with fat-free salad dressing or vinegar without any oil will reduce the calorie consumption, but we’re sadly going to have to burst your bubble and tell you that it will not do any favors to your body.
Cardio Burns Fat
The liver stores around 1,000 calories of sugar at hand for energy at all times and before the body begins to break down the fats for fuel, it must burn the stored sugars. Most cardio routines burn less than 1,000 calories in an hour, so it will not necessarily burn the body fat. If you want to burn the body fat, you must make an effort to be active at all times. This will help you reach your target by burning calories from the sugar and then the body will begin to burn the extra fat.
Eating Eggs Will Raise the Blood Cholesterol Levels
In truth, blood cholesterol is produced by the liver and the food that you eat has little or no impact on the cholesterol levels. You can confidently “go eggs”! Eggs are a protein powerhouse and the best source of choline which is a neurotransmitter that boosts the memory and cognitive function52.
Red Meat Is Not Healthy
It is processed meat that is harmful and not unprocessed red meat. Research shows that those who consume more processed meats such as deli meats and sausages full of salt are likely to have a heart failure when compared to people who eat more unprocessed meat53. Between a burger and bacon, reach out for the burger!
You Should Consume Only Olive Oil as It Is the Healthiest
While it is true that olive oil is “heart healthy” and has a host of other health benefits, our body needs a variety of fats. You must consume foods with various fats that provide the body with phytosterols and essential fatty acids that help to safeguard against disease. Think variety like nuts, seeds, oils, salmon, and avocados. Just be sure to skip the trans fats that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Making “Fat” Mistakes
The word “fat” is enough to send shivers of terror down anyone’s spine. We dread fats and as a result, we end up making many mistakes in trying to cut out the fats from our diet.
Cutting out The “Good” Fats
When we think of a low-fat diet, the first thing eliminated is the unsaturated oils that are used in salad dressings and used for frying foods. As a result, our blood vessels are deprived of the health benefits that these unsaturated fats offer. Food like nuts and avocados not only provide the body with good fats but they are also packed with other nutrients. Avoiding these foods can leave the body deficient in the essential nutrients it requires.
Studies show that the use of cooking oil increases the absorption of lycopene in vegetables like tomatoes54 that help in fighting heart disease and cancer55. So make sure you don’t eliminate the oils from your diet completely; again, the key is moderation.
Eliminating the Wrong Fats
In the process of cutting out the “bad” saturated fats from our diet, we tend to eliminate dairy products and meat too. While these foods have saturated fats, they are also great sources of vitamins and proteins. It is a good idea to consume reduced fat varieties of these foods rather than eliminating them from the diet completely. You can opt for low-fat or fat-free milk rather than the full-fat variety, lean cuts of milk and skinless poultry.
Overlooking the Hidden Fats
We should always look out for the “unhealthy” saturated fats that are hidden in processed and packaged foods such as snack bars, pastries, and crumbed food. We also usually tend to overlook the trans fats contained in foods.
Picking up Foods with Low-Fat Labels
Low-fat foods can be healthy but over-relying on these foods can be risky. Though the manufacturers cut out the fat, they make up for the texture and taste by increasing the sugar or refined starch content, which is quite unhealthy. Another problem with low-fat processed foods is that we tend to consume more of these foods since they are labeled “low-fat”. While these foods do not provide many useful nutrients, low-fat foods lull us into a false sense of security that we are consuming foods that are very low in fat and hence they are not unhealthy.
Problems Caused Due to Fat Deficiency
As we are already aware, fats play a very vital role in the absorption of vitamins such as vitamins A, D, K and E, which have a very important role in several body functions such as cell repair, blood clotting and growth. Fat also increases the feeling of satiety between meals and helps you avoid snacking as well as overeating.
The USDA recommends that calories from fat should constitute 25-30 percent of the daily calorie consumption, of which, the saturated fat component must be around 10 percent. Studies have linked Omega-3 fatty acids with emotional health and cognitive function development.
A low-fat diet can lead to reduced vitamin absorption, increased risk of cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, weight gain and depression56. A very low-fat diet can also cause a general nutrition imbalance, which in turn can result in greater risk for problems such as type-2 diabetes or osteoporosis57. Also, if your body does not get at least 15 percent of its calories from fat, you could develop a deficiency in the fat-soluble vitamins i.e. vitamins A, D, K and E or you could suffer from deficiency in essential fatty acid.
Fats are also necessary for healthy hair and skin. If you don’t get enough of fat from your diet, this can cause skin problems. Essential fatty acid deficiency can result in excessive loss of water from your skin that can cause scaly and dry rash. This type of deficiency can also result in wounds taking a longer time to heal58.
Fatty Foods That Are Actually “Super Healthy”
Since fat has been condemned and ostracized, people have been consuming more refined carbs, sugar and processed foods. As a result, people are only becoming fatter. However, with studies showing that not all fats are bad, in the recent years, fats have made a comeback that could rival Robert Downey Jr. Some high-fat foods that are highly nutritious and healthy have made it to the “super food” list. Let’s take a look at some of the super healthy fatty foods!
Avocados are fruits that are loaded with fats, unlike other fruits that contain carbs. The fats from avocados contribute to around 77 percent of the calories, which is more fat than most animal-based foods. The main fatty acid present in avocados is oleic acid, which is a monounsaturated fat and has a host of health benefits.
Avocados are also a rich source of potassium and fiber. Eating avocados can help to lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and raise the HDL cholesterol levels. Despite being high in calories and fat, people eating avocados have less abdominal fat and weigh less59.
Research shows that people who eat fish are healthier and have a lower risk of several ailments, heart disease, depression, and dementia. If you fish isn’t exactly on your list of favorite foods, then you can take a fish oil supplement, which is also very beneficial.
Cheese is extremely nutritious and a single slice of cheese contains the nutrients equivalent to a glass of milk. Cheese is a wonderful source of proteins (a single slice contains 6.7 grams of protein), vitamin B12, calcium, selenium, and phosphorus. Cheese also contains “healthy” fats that provide plenty of health benefits including reducing the risk of type-2 diabetes.
Full-fat yogurt contains several vital nutrients and is very healthy. It is packed with probiotic bacteria which are very beneficial to digestive health60. As we’re aware, full-fat yogurt can help to prevent heart disease and obesity.
Nut are very healthy and are a wonderful plant-based source of protein, fiber and “good” fats. Nuts are packed with magnesium and vitamin E that are essential for the body. Eating nuts can help to lower the risk of several diseases such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease and obesity61. Examples of healthy nuts are walnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, and pistachios.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
An essential ingredient in the Mediterranean diet, extra virgin olive oil has numerous health benefits. It is packed with antioxidants and is also rich in vitamins K and E. The antioxidants in the extra virgin olive oil help to fight inflammation62 and protect the LDL cholesterol in the blood from getting oxidized63. Extra virgin olive oil also helps to improve cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure64, and thus, reduces the risk of heart disease. Of all the healthy oils and fats in the diet, extra virgin olive oil surely can be considered “king”.
Dark chocolate is one of the unique “super foods” that is not only healthy but also has incredible taste. They have very high fat content almost contributing to around 65% of the calories. However, dark chocolate contains plenty of other nutrients- fiber, iron, copper, magnesium, and manganese, and is loaded with antioxidants.
Eating dark chocolate can help to prevent the LDL cholesterol in the blood from oxidation65 and it also aids to lower blood pressure66. Dark chocolate can also protect the skin from sun damage67 and help in brain development68.
Research shows that people who consume dark chocolate 5 times a week or more are less likely to suffer from heart disease as compared to those that don’t eat chocolate69. A point to remember: ensure that you choose dark chocolate that contains at least 70% cocoa.
Coconuts and Coconut Oil
With almost 90 percent content of saturated fatty acids, coconuts and coconut oil are considered the richest source of saturated fat on earth. The fats contained in coconut are mostly medium-chain fatty acids. These fats help to reduce appetite and boost metabolism70. Medium-chain fats can benefit those suffering from Alzheimer’s71 and can help to shed belly fat.
Typically, consumption of whole eggs is thought as being unhealthy as the yolks are high in fat and cholesterol. In fact, one egg contributes 62% of the calories from fat and it has 212 mg cholesterol which comprises 71% of the recommended intake per day. However, it may turn out that the cholesterol contained in the eggs do not affect the blood cholesterol levels72. Actually, eggs are one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
Eggs are chockfull of essential vitamins and minerals. They contain powerful antioxidants and the chemical choline which is essential for brain development73. Eggs also contain a protein that aids in weight loss74 and despite being very high in fat, people who eat eggs for breakfast instead of grains lose weight75.
The best eggs are those that are pastured or enriched with omega-3. Keep in mind not to discard the yolk as that is where most of the egg’s nutrients are.
Chia seeds are excellent high-fat plant food that contains very healthy fats. An ounce of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat contributing to most of the calories. The fats contained in chia seeds comprise omega-3 fatty acids called ALA. Chia seeds are also loaded with fiber and minerals and have many health benefits such as anti-inflammatory properties and help to lower blood pressure76.
Cholesterol is a compound similar to fat that is manufactured by the body and has a waxy texture. It is not a fat really, but is fat-like, and is very important for health as it helps the cells in the body to function normally. Cholesterol becomes a problem and increases the risk for heart disease when the LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels become raised.
Dietary Cholesterol vs Serum Cholesterol
- Dietary Cholesterol: This is mainly found in animal-based foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs and shellfish. Dietary cholesterol helps in many body functions and is a vital component in the cell membrane77.
- Serum Cholesterol: It is the soft and waxy compound present in various part of the body such as skin, muscle, nervous system, liver, heart and intestines. It is manufactured by the body and also obtained from fatty foods in the diet. Cholesterol is manufactured in the liver and is very important for various functions such as vitamin D, hormone and bile production.When we speak about “good” or “bad” cholesterol levels in the body, it is this serum cholesterol that is being referred to. Some commonly used terms are LDL, HDL, triglycerides. Let us take a closer look at what these terms mean.
- LDL or Low-Density Lipoprotein: This essentially transports triglycerides and cholesterol from the liver to the cells. Commonly termed as “bad” cholesterol, a high level of LDL is usually associated with a high risk of heart attack as it means that there is a high level of artery-clogging cholesterol in the blood stream78.
- HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein: This is usually considered as the “good” cholesterol. HDL transports the triglycerides and cholesterol from the vessels and the cells to the liver. A high level of HDL level in the blood is usually associated with a lowered risk of heart attack79.
- Triglycerides: Triglycerides are the main form of fat in the diet and the major form in which fat is stored in the body. Triglycerides provide your body with insulation and energy and also protect the internal organs from any damage. They also help the body to metabolize carbohydrates and proteins efficiently, helping prevent obesity80. A level of less than 150mg/DL is considered to be a healthy triglyceride level.
In short, LDL moves the cholesterol to the heart and excessive amounts of cholesterol can raise the incidence of heart disease, while HDL moves the cholesterol towards the liver and away from the heart, where the excess cholesterol is eliminated from the system.
Effect of Different Types of Fats on Cholesterol Levels
There is a high risk of developing heart disease if you consume a diet that is high in saturated fats. In a very healthy fat-filled nutshell, monounsaturated fats are lipids that lower the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels and maintain the “good” cholesterol (HDL) at the same levels. Polyunsaturated fats tend to lower both the LDL as well as the HDL levels (as you know, HDL levels should be high). Both Omega-3, as well as Omega-6 fatty acids, are linked to lowering triglyceride levels81.
Types of Body Fat
Rare is the person (and incredibly, incredibly lucky) is the person who hasn’t agonized over body fat. Be it the beer bellies in middle-aged men or the cellulite-ridden thighs in women, fat plagues us as a society! However, hopefully by now, we’ve all realized that fat isn’t all that bad! Fat stores the excess calories in the body which can be mobilized and used when you are hungry, and also, the body metabolism is controlled by hormones released by fat.
What is not common knowledge though, is that the body has different types of fat. In the recent years, research has disclosed that our body contains a variety of distinctly colored fats that have unique molecular structures and affect our health differently82.
Brown Fat Or “Good Fat”
Until now, thought of as worthless fat, brown fat has gained a lot of buzz in the recent years. Studies have shown that lean people have more brown fat when compared to overweight and obese people. However, when brown fat is stimulated, it can burn calories83.
Brown fat keeps a newborn infant’s core temperature warm and it is the brown adipose tissue or BAT that is usually found in the back of the neck. This brown fat converts food into heat to keep the body warm84. Children have a greater content of brown fat than adults and the brown fat content declines as children grow into adults. Brown fat is similar to muscle and when stimulated, it can help to burn white fat85.
Even though leaner adults have a larger amount of brown fat than people who are overweight, even their brown fat content is lesser than their white fat cells. For example, a person who weighs 150 pounds may have 20-30 pounds of fat of which only 2-3 ounces would be brown fat. However, even if the 2 ounces of brown fat are activated, you can burn 200-500 calories per day which are sufficient to lose up to 1 pound per week.
It is neutral colored “good fat” which is mixed with the brown and white fat and is found as tiny deposits along the spine and near the collarbone. Beige fat can help in weight management86. Eating certain foods like grapes can help in the production of the beneficial beige fat.
White Fat or “Bad Fat”
White fat is a kind of adipose tissue that helps to store energy and produce hormones that are released into the bloodstream. White fat is found in more quantity in our body than brown fat.
Small size fat cells produce a beneficial hormone called adiponectin that sensitizes the muscles and liver to insulin and helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes87. As you gain weight and become fat, the body slows down or stops producing adiponectin, making you vulnerable to several diseases.
Subcutaneous fat is the fat that is located just below the skin. Total body fat percentage can be measured by using skinfold calipers and measuring the subcutaneous fat.
Subcutaneous fat, especially in the thighs and buttocks is not very harmful and does not cause health problems. In fact, this fat can have some benefits. However, subcutaneous fat located on and around the belly can be harmful88.
Visceral Fat Or “Really, Really Bad Fat”
Visceral fat, also known as the “deep” fat, is found wrapped around the inner organs in the body and is very harmful. A large belly or waist are indicators of the presence of visceral fat. The reason why visceral fat is dangerous is that the blood flow from this fat drains into the liver directly i.e. all the fatty acids and toxins from the visceral fat are deposited into the liver which impacts the production of blood cholesterol89.
Studies also show that the visceral fat produces chemicals called cytokines or immune system chemicals that can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by stimulating chronic inflammation and insulin resistance90. Visceral fat can increase your risk for several diseases like heart disease, diabetes, stroke and dementia. Visceral fat increases insulin resistance in the body that boosts the risk of diabetes91.
However, the good news is that visceral fat can be reduced more easily than stubborn subcutaneous fat by following a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine.
Belly fat is both subcutaneous as well as visceral fat and is extremely unhealthy fat. Fat around the abdomen and gut is a greater health risk than thigh or hip fat. Belly fat has an adverse effect on insulin resistance and increases the risk of blood lipids, diabetes, heart attack and stroke.
Men with a waist circumference of more than 40 inches and women having a waist circumference of more than 35 inches are at a greater risk of diseases.
Thigh Fat and Buttocks Fat
“A moment on the lips, forever on the hips” was said with very good reason! Commonly the tendency for fat accumulation in men is in the belly, while in women, especially if they are “pear shaped”, the fat accumulation occurs in the thighs and buttocks.
Studies show that pear shaped women are less prone to metabolic diseases as compared to people with large bellies92. Also, fat in the thighs and buttocks may have some benefits. However, the advantage of women being pear shaped may come to a halt when they reach menopause and the fat begins to deposit around the abdomen.
Weight Loss and Fat Loss
When we speak about weight loss, it is the white fat that is being shed. When you follow a healthy diet regimen and also add exercise to the routine, you can see loss of the visceral fat from your belly93.
Today, obesity is a common problem that is afflicting millions of people. Obesity is a condition where the body has an excessive accumulation of fat, defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more by the U.S. National Institute of Health. Obesity occurs over time when you consume more calories than that used by the body, and may also be caused due to many factors such as overeating, consuming foods that are high in fat, having a sedentary lifestyle and also genetic make-up.
Obesity can cause several serious health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, heart attack94, enlargement of prostrate, GERD or gastro-esophageal reflux disease, cancer, liver disease95 and reduced fertility rates in females96. Obesity can also cause a lot of stress on the joints and result in degradation of the cartilage. It can also cause meta-inflammation or low-grade inflammation in the body97.
In the recent years, we have seen an alarming rise in obesity in adults and also in children due to consumption of junk food and leading an inactive, sedentary life. Consumption of processed foods such as packaged foods, refined starches, sugary foods and beverages, meat, dairy products, and eggs. increase the risk of obesity. Industrial pollutants98, chemicals that disrupt the endocrine system,and increased uric acid from consumption of meat99 are all causes for increased obesity risk.
Obesity can be prevented by following a healthy and nutritious plant-based diet. Plant-based diets can help to protect against metabolic syndrome and also encourage the growth of gut bacteria that can help to reduce obesity. Consuming whole grains, beans, nuts, dried fruits, green tea and plenty of fiber can help to reduce the risk of obesity100. Fiber-consuming bacteria in the digestive system produce chemical compounds butyrate and propionate that also help to fight obesity101.
We all love fats because they are generally responsible for making food taste delicious. But at the same time, nothing scares us more than fats, and we end up unfairly blaming them for most of our health problems. However, new research has found that certain fats have more health benefits than we give them credit for.
The problem is that most food items have a combination of different fats. So how do we then consume a certain category of fats and eliminate others? That, unfortunately, is not possible. Most food items are categorized on the ‘fat-table’ based on the dominant fat. So, even if you are eating a food item with unsaturated fats, chances are that it has saturated fats in it as well.
It helps to know the primary fat in different food items. When you are reading labels of packaged food, don’t just look at the total fat figures. Read the fine print and look at the percentage of different kinds of fats and buy products with more poly and monounsaturated or “good” fats and less trans or saturated fats or the “bad” fats.
Finding the right balance is the key. It becomes important that you practice moderation with fats, good or bad. Also, the proportion of fat you consume should be in proportion to your dietary lifestyle and your weight, and if you are trying to achieve changes in your body and are aiming to become healthier, then your fat consumption must be proportional to your health goals. After all, healthiness and body weight are all just a “matter of fat”!