Do you remember when the country was in a fat-free food frenzy? Labels everywhere began announcing their products as “non-fat” or “no-fat.” For years we were told to eat a fat-free diet because dietary fat was thought to be a major cause of heart disease.
Today, after intensive scientific research, we know that not all fat is bad and, in fact, some fats are crucial to a healthy body. As we pay more attention to the quality of fats in our daily diets, we need to educate ourselves on the different kinds found in our food.
There are four basic types of dietary fat: saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
Saturated fat is found in red meat, full-fat dairy products and some tropical oils. This fat has documented negative health impacts: It can increase a person’s risk of heart disease, stroke, and some cancers. It can also increase the danger of becoming obese and diabetic.
Trans fats come from partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and were originally developed to give processed food products a longer shelf life. They are worse for the body than saturated fats, and we do not need them. Among other problems, trans fats are associated with a decrease in insulin’s ability to do its job.
Monounsaturated fats are good fats. These are the fats in olive oil, canola oil and avocados. Monounsaturated fats can protect your cardiovascular system and lower your risk of insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.
Polyunsaturated fats include omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. We get omega-6 from corn oil, safflower oil, cottonseed oil and sunflower oil. These fats are in most packaged foods. Omega-3 fats come from two sources: plant sources like walnuts flaxseeds and dark leafy greens, as well as marine sources such as wild salmon, Alaskan halibut, tuna and sardines.
Our diet must include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids because our bodies can’t manufacture them. Most people do not need to worry about getting enough omega-6 fatty acids because our Western diet is overloaded with them.
Omega-3 fatty acids help build ideal cell membranes and promote the production of prostaglandins. Without these, we increase our risk for many health problems, including stroke, heart attack, cardiac arrhythmias, some cancers, insulin resistance, asthma, hypertension, age-related macular degeneration, autoimmune disorders, and ADHD. Other problems include dry skin, brittle nails and hair, constipation, frequent colds, inability to concentrate, depression and joint pain. One report found that almost 99 percent of Americans do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids.
Final Thoughts: Good Fats Versus Bad Fats
We should all increase the amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats in our diet and decrease our intake of omega-6s because we already get enough. Saturated fats should be a very minor part of our daily diet, and we should avoid all trans fats.