Ahhh fats. They really got beat down in the ’80s and ’90s. Everything had a low-fat or non-fat equivalent. The saying ‘Fat makes you fat’ became popular, and we are just now starting to come back from that. Marketing changes the way whole generations eat, and this was no exception. In this post, I will let you know about the world of fat, all the wonderous things it does for us, and how you can increase your intake or change it to include more of the good variety.
- the metabolism of certain vitamins which include A, D, E, and K. These are needed for healthy skin and hair among others. One reason for dry skin can be low fat intake.
- keep our cell membranes strong and flexible. Without cell membranes, we wouldn’t be. On the other hand, when we have healthy cell membranes, we are healthier.
- aid in brain function. Fats are needed for the structural components of the brain as well as an integral component of our nervous system.
- the manufacture of certain hormones. Sex hormones need fat in order to be made.
- a ready energy source. Carbohydrates are the energy source the body will use first, but fats are next and they pack an energy punch – 9 calories per gram whereas carbs and protein have 4.
- protection for our internal organs as well as keeping them in place and for body temperature regulation.
- eating the right quality and quantity will have an anti-inflammatory effect in the whole body.
Types of Fat
Fat can be divided many times into many categories. There are short-, medium-, and long-chain fatty acids, as well as saturated, unsaturated, and mono- and polyunsaturated fat. What do all of these mean? The short-, medium-, and long-chain fatty acids just refer to the number of links in the chain that makes up a fatty acid. We need all types of these in our diet.
Another way to classify fat is by the degree of saturation. Some are saturated with hydrogen atoms, and it means that they contain all of the hydrogen atoms that they can possibly hold, and these are called saturated fats. They are the most stable in the body and will therefore react the least with other atoms. This is good because they won’t create free radicals, and they help with the structure of the cell membrane.
Unsaturated fatty acids can interact with other molecules more readily and they are more susceptible to damage. They are still needed though because they give the cell membranes flexibility. Because unsaturated fats are much more delicate, we need to take greater care of them when buying, storing, and using.
The visual difference between saturated and unsaturated fats is fairly clear. Saturated are the fats that are solid at room temperature, like coconut oil, and unsaturated are liquid, like sunflower oil.
Saturated fats cannot be further categorized, but unsaturated can. There are degrees of unsaturation. There are mono- and polyunsaturated fats. This refers to the number of spots a hydrogen atom is missing from the fatty acid chain, and where this spot is located there will be a carbon double bond. These double bonds are an area of great potential energy and where they are located on the fatty acid chain will determine if they are an omega-3, omega-6, or omega-9. Mono- has one double bond and poly- contains more than one.
Omega-3 and omega-6
Polyunsaturated fats can then be broken down even further to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. With these two, it is important to have the right balance. There is some debate as to the right ratio, but most fall between 2:1 to 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3. In our culture at this time, the ratio is generally skewed to 10:1 or 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3. This can cause problems with inflammation, communication issues between cell membranes, and may also relate to obesity.
You may be asking yourself about trans fat. Where does this fit in? The unsaturated fats are less stable and this makes them go rancid faster on the grocery store shelves, among other things. Food makers found that if they add hydrogen to these fats, a method called hydrogenation, they will be able to sell them for longer periods of time. Unfortunately, this also creates trans fats, which lowers the quality of the oil and has been linked to atherosclerosis and many other issues. If you see labels that say ‘hydrogenated oils’, step away!
More Fats in Our Diet
I am not one to focus on what I cannot eat. That leads to problems. Instead, let’s look at all the yummy foods we can eat, because that is what really matters anyway. Nuts and seeds are great sources of fat. Nuts will be better metabolized in the body if they are soaked first. Soaking removes the component of the nut that makes digestion harder. They contain an enzyme inhibitor that acts as a great deterrent to little creatures eating them. They can be soaked overnight in good, filtered water. They are also a good source of protein. Flaxseeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids and can be eaten regularly. They are good freshly ground on your morning oatmeal, a salad, or in a smoothie, and can also be purchased as an oil for no heat dressing and sauces. Walnuts are also a great source of omega-3s as are chia seeds. There are oil versions of these two as well.
The above are all examples of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). These are not stable in the body and can use some help to keep them from oxidizing (becoming free radicals). This can be as easy as eating with antioxidants like foods high in vitamins A, C, and E, like berries and bell peppers, as well as foods high in fiber like any whole vegetable, or with B vitamins like whole grains.
Avocados are a great addition to the diet. They are a good source monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and can be used in anything from a yummy guacamole to a creamy chocolate mousse. Speaking of chocolate, cacao nibs are also a source of our friend MUFAs. Cacao nibs can be eaten whole or ground up to be used in raw chocolate or thrown in a morning green smoothie. Other examples of MUFAs are olive oil, almond oil, and cashew and macadamia nuts.
Coconut oil is the example of a plant-based saturated fat. It is a perfect example of a fat that had a bad name for a long time, just because it was saturated, but has since jumped into the limelight. It is great for cooking with because of its high smoke point and flavour.
This is a very basic overview of the world of fats. There is so much we can talk about in relation to this delicious macronutrient, and it would be really easy to go on. They are a rich source of energy for our body, and they are needed every day. When adding fats to your diet, look for high quality sources and watch to see if you notice a difference. They are tasty and add needed nutrients to food.
What is your fat of the moment? Is there one you cannot live without right now? I am loving avocados added to smoothies and salads. They are so smooth and rich. Comment below and let me know yours!