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What Healthy Fats Should You Be Having?

List Of Healthy Fats

Balance is key in a healthy diet. And that applies to fats as well. Cutting them out altogether isn’t a good idea, but which fats are healthy? Pass up on the saturated fats in butter and animal fat, as well as the unhealthy trans fats in processed foods. But you can safely consume moderate amounts of unsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados, and enjoy the fatty goodness of fish like salmon or tuna. Certain saturated fats like ghee and coconut oil may not be off the cards either!

Have you considered cutting out fat altogether to lose weight or eat healthy? Well, painting all fats with the same brush is not going to do your body or health any justice. Some fats are needed by your body and are actually healthy. Without them, certain functions like normal cell development may not occur. Your skin and bones may also not be able to develop properly. More critically, your body needs the good healthy fats for maintaining brain health and keeping your heart working well.1

Saturated, Unsaturated, And Trans Fats: What’s The Difference?

Saturated and unsaturated fats are among the most referenced in mainstream media. Saturated fats increase cholesterol levels in the body and raise the risk of heart disease. This kind of fat is found in butter, lard, fatty meats, and a lot of baked goods like cakes, pies, and biscuits. However, there are exceptions. Certain saturated fats like extra virgin coconut oil and ghee are actually packed with goodness, which means you can have them in moderation.

Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, can be monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil or polyunsaturated fats like those in fatty fish. The latter help cut down levels of bad cholesterol and lower the risk of stroke and heart disease, besides helping develop and maintain the cells of your body.2 Monounsaturated fats also produce similar effects.3 The American Heart Association suggest cutting down saturated fat intake to lower the risk of stroke and heart disease.4 5

Another more ominous kind of fat – and one that you should avoid or cut down – is trans fats. Found in animal products, meat, dairy, and also in partially hydrogenated oils, this kind of fat increases your risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It increases levels of bad cholesterol and lowers levels of the good HDL cholesterol. Baked goods, processed foods, frozen ready-to-eat foods, and deep-fried fast food are some common sources.6

Omega 3, Omega 6, And Omega 9 Fatty Acids: Good Or Bad?

Omega 3 fatty acids are found in walnuts, almonds, and oily fish and are a polyunsaturated fat that your body doesn’t produce. They need to be provided through diet or supplements. These fatty acids can lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fatty fish, can help with brain development and eye health. They may even help lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.7

Omega 6 fatty acids are also a polyunsaturated fat but must be taken in moderation. They also need to be balanced with omega 3 consumption. On the positive side, it can help with brain development and reproductive health, and keep your skin and bones healthy. But having too much of omega 6 fatty acid in your body could actually trigger inflammatory problems. The result? Greater risk of developing asthma, arthritis, heart disease, depression, and even cancer. Vegetable oils like sunflower, soybean, peanut, and rice bran as well as meat, dairy, and eggs are sources of this fat.8

Omega 9 fatty acids are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats that your body does produce, but it also needs to be consumed through diet. They can help lower diabetes and cardiovascular disease risk, improve good HDL cholesterol levels, cut bad LDL cholesterol levels, eliminate plaque buildup in your arteries, thus lowering the risk of stroke and heart problems. This oleic acid is found in nut oils and olive oil.9

Fats That Are Healthier Than Others

Even within the spectrum of healthy fats, some are better than others. Here is a roundup of the best on offer.

1. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The virtues of extra virgin olive oil are well-established. This monounsaturated fat fights inflammatory conditions, including coronary artery disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis, due to the omega 3 fatty acids it contains.10 It can also help protect you against hypertension.11

2. Extra Virgin Coconut Oil

Just be sure not to buy hydrogenated coconut oil – the high pressure and heat it is subjected to during processing make it unhealthy.

Although coconut oil is a saturated fat, it is surprisingly beneficial for the body. Extra virgin coconut oil contains medium chain fatty acids that can work as functional lipids in the body, helping prevent and even treat metabolic syndrome.12 They also fight alcohol-induced oxidative stress.13 Lauric acid, the fatty acid in extra virgin coconut oil, can also help act as an antibacterial and antimicrobial.14

3. Avocado

The creamy goodness of avocados comes with underlying health benefits as well. As rich and sinful as they may taste, these green pear-shaped fruits are a great source of monounsaturated omega 9 fatty acid oleic acid.15 This fat is linked to lower inflammatory response and can reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. They also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Some studies have shown that omega-9 fatty acids can lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and increase levels of the good HDL cholesterol in your body.16

4. Fat in Nuts And Seeds

Walnuts and almonds, as well as seeds like flaxseed and pumpkin seeds, are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids.17 The nutrient-dense nature of nuts means that you get plenty of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help you ward off cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. What’s more, the fiber and protein content of nuts is high. This keeps you feeling full longer. When you have them instead of less healthy snacks, they can even help you prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.18 The American Heart Association says that almonds and walnuts are inflammation-fighting food, another reason to consume them.19

5. Fatty Fish

Avoid the lure of fried fish or crumb fried fish – you’ll end up undoing the goodness of this fish due to the trans fats or less healthy fats in that deep fryer.

Oily or fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are rich in omega 3 fatty acids that are good for you. You can include these foods in your diet to get yourself a healthy dose of the good fats. Just be sure you steam, poach, gently pan fry or bake them in healthy oils like olive oil. 20Research has shown that consuming fatty fish can help bring down your risk of all-cause mortality, as well as sudden death, cardiac problems, and may even lower risk of having a stroke.21

6. Ghee

Clarified butter or ghee is used in many ayurvedic treatments and remedies to treat ailments. Now, modern research also suggests that ghee could be good for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease. The conjugated linoleic acid in ghee has antidiabetic, antiadipogenic, antiatherogenic, and even anticarcinogenic properties. Animal studies show that it can be used as a healthy fat to prevent the progress of atherosclerosis and coronary artery disease.22

Besides the vitamins A, D, and K in ghee, you can also benefit from the butyric acid it contains. This monounsaturated fatty acid cuts inflammation in the body and also helps digestive health by helping restore the mucosal wall when it needs repair.23

Ghee also scores over butter. It is more concentrated than butter, so you’d need less of it to achieve the same level of flavor. This means you should be able to cook with less too. Ghee also has a higher smoking point than butter, making it a healthier choice if you plan to cook at high temperatures.24

Never go overboard with ghee consumption, though, because it is, at the end of the day, a saturated fat. In fact, some experts even maintain it should be avoided. For instance, the British Heart Foundation suggests swapping clarified butter and animal fats for unsaturated fats like those in olive oil.25Those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance may also have trouble using this fat. The bottom line? Practice moderation so you can reap the benefits.

How Much Fat Can You Have?

Even if you switch to healthy fats, you should still stick to the overall recommended intake for fats. That means about 35 percent of calories from fat may be optimal if it comes from the right sources. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines actually suggest avoiding a low-fat diet, where fat is around 20 percent, in favor of one that increases intake of healthy fats. A Mediterranean-style diet, for instance, is widely acknowledged as a healthy diet and gets its fats from good monounsaturated fats like olive oil and fatty fish. What you should keep in check, however, is your intake of saturated fats, which needs to be under 10 percent of daily calorie intake – the lower the better.26

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Polyunsaturated fats. American Heart Association.
3. Monounsaturated fats. American Heart Association.
4. Healthy Cooking Oils. American Heart Association.
5. Eat less saturated fat. National Health Service.
6. Side Effects Of Neem You Should Be Aware Of. American Heart Association.
7. Omega-3, 6, and 9 and How They Add Up.University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
8. Omega 6 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center.
9. Omega-3, 6, and 9 and How They Add Up. University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
10, 11. Wardhana, Eko E. Surachmanto, and E. A. Datau. “The role of omega-3 fatty acids contained in olive oil on chronic inflammation.” inflammation 11 (2011): 12.
12. Nagao, Koji, and Teruyoshi Yanagita. “Medium-chain fatty acids: functional lipids for the prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome.” Pharmacological Research 61, no. 3 (2010): 208-212.
13. Dosumu, O. O., F. I. O. Duru, A. A. Osinubi, A. A. Oremosu, and C. C. Noronha. “Influence of virgin coconut oil (VCNO) on oxidative stress, serum testosterone and gonadotropic hormones (FSH, LH) in chronic ethanol ingestion.” Agriculture and Biology Journal of North America 6 (2010): 1126-1132.
14. Kabara, Jon J., Dennis M. Swieczkowski, Anthony J. Conley, and Joseph P. Truant. “Fatty acids and derivatives as antimicrobial agents.” Antimicrobial agents and chemotherapy 2, no. 1 (1972): 23-28.
15. Avocados, raw, all commercial varieties. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28.
16. Omega-3, 6, and 9 and How They Add Up. University of Colorado Colorado Springs.
17. Omega-3 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center.
18. Jackson, Chandra L., and Frank B. Hu. “Long-term associations of nut consumption with body weight and obesity.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 100, no. Supplement 1 (2014): 408S-411S.
19. Harvard Health Publications. Harvard Health Publications.
20. Foods that fight inflammation. Harvard Health Publications.
21. Wang, Chenchen, William S. Harris, Mei Chung, Alice H. Lichtenstein, Ethan M. Balk, Bruce Kupelnick, Harmon S. Jordan, and Joseph Lau. “n− 3 Fatty acids from fish or fish-oil supplements, but not α-linolenic acid, benefit cardiovascular disease outcomes in primary-and secondary-prevention studies: a systematic review.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 84, no. 1 (2006): 5-17.
22. Chinnadurai, Kathirvelan, Harpreet Kaur Kanwal, Amrish Kumar Tyagi, Catherine Stanton, and Paul Ross. “High conjugated linoleic acid enriched ghee (clarified butter) increases the antioxidant and antiatherogenic potency in female Wistar rats.” Lipids in health and disease 12, no. 1 (2013): 121.
23. Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for nutritional healing. Penguin, 2006.
24. Mishra, Sundeep, and S. C. Manchanda. “Cooking oils for heart health.” J Prev Cardiol 1 (2012): 123-131.
25. . British Heart Foundation.
26. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines: Answers to Your Questions. United States Department of Agriculture.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.