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
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.
Saturated Fats have received a really bad rep over the past couple decades, but like our other healthy fat sources discussed last week (Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats) they also have their place in our diet.
Let’s start by reiterating the fact that everyone is different when it comes to fat metabolism and some people feel great on a higher fat diet while others need to monitor their fat intake(even if it is coming from “healthy fat” sources. )
Saturated fats are the most chemically stable of the fats family and are solid at room temperature. They can typically be heated to high temperatures without disrupting the chemical structure and or cause increased inflammation in our system, unlike their counterparts Polyunsaturated or Monounsaturated fats.
Here are some benefits of Saturated Fats:
Improved cardiovascular health - Yes! In the right quantities and with the right sources Saturated fats can help to improve our heart health.
Contributing to stronger bones - The uptake of calcium into our bones requires saturated fat.
Improved cognitive function - Saturated fat can make you smarter, your brain is primarily composed of, specifically saturated fat.
Boosting the immune system - If our bodies are low in Saturated fatty acids, our white blood cells can lose their ability to destroy foreign invaders leading to bugs or viruses.
Improved hormonal health - Saturated Fats provide the building blocks for cell membranes and other hormone like substances.
Safety - Saturated fats will help to keep you full for longer by slowing the absorption of food by your digestive system, saving you from becoming unbearably hangry.
Like all of the fats discussed, Quality does Matter. Great sources of Saturated fat include: • Coconut/Coconut oil/Coconut milk
• Grass-fed Beef or Lamb
• Full fat dairy products (preferably Organic and Grass-fed) Ie. Butter, Cheese, Kiefer
No fat conversation would be complete without discussing Trans-fats. Trans-fats are Unsaturated fats that have been modified to behave like a Saturated fat, meaning they were previously liquid but have been manipulated into a solid form at room temperature. Typically, Trans fats start as Polyunsaturated fats and go through a process known as Hydrogenation (as the name suggest a Hydrogen molecule has been added.) You will notice the label of Trans-fats often read “hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated”, due to the change in natural chemical structure these modified fat sources have been linked to a slew of issues including:
• Increased overall inflammation
• Contributing to insulin resistance
• Linked to heart disease
• Disruption of our neurotransmitter function causing cognitive dysfunction
Trans-fats most commonly show up in the following foods: • Packaged foods
• Baked goods
• Nut butters
• Fried foods
Saturated fats are a crucial part of our diet, but it is important to focus on quality sources and avoid overconsumption. Trans-fats are to be avoided, sticking to a whole real foods diet is the easiest way to eliminate trans-fats from your grocery cart!