Movement diversity and a consistent exercise program are a big part of health and fitness, but they’re not enough. In order to really get in shape and achieve optimal health, nutrition has to become a focus as well. I’d like to provide a more thorough understanding of the different types of fat that are actually beneficial (at healthy levels) to the human diet. Let’s take a deeper look:
The fact is, all saturated fats are not created equally. Some saturated fats occur naturally, while others are artificially manipulated into a saturated state through the man-made process of hydrogenation. Maybe you’ve heard of hydrogenation: the word “hydrogenated” can be found on a lot of household food labels in pantries and refrigerators all across America.
Hydrogenation manipulates vegetable and seed oils by adding hydrogen atoms while heating the oil, producing a rancid substance that only prolongs the product’s shelf life and thereby increases corporate profits. These manipulated saturated fats are also known as trans-fats. Trans-fats are a major health concern because they elevate our bad LDL cholesterol, and decrease our good HDL cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol levels are associated with heart disease, stroke, and an increased risk of developing type II diabetes.
Naturally occurring saturated fat is an essential nutrient; we need it for proper digestion function, growth, and a host of other processes. In fact, it is a component of every single cell in our bodies. It is so important to proper function and good health that nature has incorporated saturated fat into almost all forms of the foods we eat, of both animal and plant origin.
Polyunsaturated fats are special because they can help lower cholesterol by reducing the amount of Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL’s) in the blood. Where polyunsaturated fats differ from monounsaturated fats is that they contain both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. These are good for hair, skin, cell function, regulating body temperature, increasing energy, and absorbing certain vitamins. Common food sources of polyunsaturated fats are walnuts, flaxseed oil, fish, eggs, safflower oil, and sunflower seeds and oil.
Monounsaturated fats reduce cholesterol levels, lower the risk for heart disease and stroke, promote weight loss, help with pain from joint stiffness and rheumatoid arthritis, reduce belly fat, and decrease your risk for cancer. Monounsaturated fat can be found in olive oil, avocados, almonds, cashews, pecans, and macadamia nuts, just to name a few.
Omega Fatty Acids:
You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about omega fatty acids, and that’s because omega-3 and omega-6 are essential for the growth and wellbeing of our bodies, due to the fact that the body cannot produce them itself. These omega fats, especially omega-3, are renowned for helping our hearts stay healthy and aiding in the reduction of cancer risk. As with anything, the key to healthy omega fat consumption is moderation.
The ideal ratio for maximum health benefits is 3:1 of omega-6 to omega-3. Too much omega-6 can interfere with the health benefits of omega-3, potentially contributing to disease and depression. Both of the omegas compete to be converted in the body. The omega 3 conversion of n-3 ALA to long chain n-3 EPA and DHA is the desirable process which delivers protection from illnesses such as cancer and heart disease. Omega 6 can promote inflammation when levels are too high, which may contribute to other health problems, and prevent the beneficial conversion of omega 3.
CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid):
CLA is a slightly modified form of omega-6. It is known to upregulate tumor suppressor genes and may have anti-cancer properties. It has been linked to a 50% reduction in cancers of the breast, colon, lung, skin, and stomach, as well as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides, osteoporosis, inflammation, immune system invaders, and food-induced allergic reactions. CLA also improves body composition and preserves muscle tissue. CLA can be found in the healthier versions of some of our main dietary staples, such as grass-fed meats, grass-fed butter, and organic, pastured eggs.
Grass-fed meat contains two to four times more omega-3 (than non-grass fed meat), it’s higher in good saturated fat, contains three to five times more CLA, and is loaded with over 400% more vitamin A (beta carotene) and vitamin E.
Loaded with cancer-fighting CLA, vitamin A, vitamin E, beta-carotene, and omega-3, grass-fed butter is significantly more healthy for you than margarine.
Grain Free, Organic, Pastured Eggs:
These eggs are a whole food; they contain protein, iodine, vitamins B12, B6, B2, and B5, Vitamin D, phosphorus, selenium, tryptophan, lutein, and beta-carotene! Such nutrients are proven to boost brain and heart health, promote weight loss, improve cholesterol, help prevent blood clots, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, while protecting eyesight.
The standard eggs most people buy from the grocery store come from chickens that are doomed from the start because of the conditions in which they’re raised. They almost never see the light of day; they live in extremely crowded and unsanitary conditions. They feed on nothing but grains and corn, which are loaded with omega 6 and pesticides. Because of all this, the chickens are given antibiotics and growth hormones their entire lives. An unhealthy animal will lead to an unhealthy human – you are what you eat!
And now a look at two nutritious products that I consider to be super foods because of their enormous health benefits and multiple uses:
Coconut oil is good for skin, hair, stress relief, maintaining cholesterol levels, weight loss, increased immunity, proper digestion, and metabolism relief from kidney problems, as well as reduced risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, HIV, and cancer! It also promotes dental health and bone strength. Coconut oil is an antioxidant with strong antifungal, antimicrobial, and antibacterial properties.
Avocado is considered to be the world’s healthiest fruit. It contains vitamin K, vitamin E, vitamin B6, fiber, potassium, folic acid, and copper. It helps lower cholesterol, regulate blood pressure, kill cancer cells, prevent oral and breast cancer, improve eye health, aids in stroke prevention, and provides better nutrient absorption. Plus, it’s the only fruit source of vitamin E!
Now that you’ve learned about healthy sources of fat and where they can be found in your diet, it’s also important that you know what to stop doing in order to really make a positive change.
What To Avoid Cooking With:
Cooking your food in vegetable oils which are high in omega-6 produces a variety of very toxic chemicals, as well as forming trans-fats. Frying food in vegetable oil destroys the antioxidants in the oil, actually oxidizing the oil, which causes even worse problems for your body. Scientists have discovered that heating vegetable oil triggers the release of high concentrations of compounds called aldehydes. These dangerous compounds are directly associated with heart disease, dementia, and cancer. Healthier substitutes include tallow, lard, ghee, or cooking with chicken or bone broth. Just make sure the products you use are all from organic, pasture raised, grass fed sources.
Other Commonly Problematic Dietary Staples
When I’m consulting with clients on their diets and meal plans, I typically discuss the effects of things like grains, corn, soy, and vegetable oils on omega fatty acid imbalance and insulin spikes, which are both known to trigger disease and weight gain. But for now I’ll elaborate more on the science of what actually happens inside the body when humans eat meals that are high in carbohydrates:
When humans eat a high carbohydrate meal it triggers a major spike in blood sugar, which then signals the body (through various enzymatic reactions) to turn on triacylglycerol (fat) synthesis and cholesterol synthesis, and thus the body derives all of its energy from the sugar ingested. Now, don’t get me wrong – there can be certain cases where insulin (when properly regulated) is beneficial. Athletes, for example, can use insulin release when timed properly for enhanced anabolic benefits. But that’s a whole different discussion.
The average person is vastly unaware of their detrimental relationship with insulin, all because of the standard American diet. When we eat a high-carb meal, our blood sugar spikes and our bodies begin to produce insulin. This article from Healthline talks about the role of insulin and another hormone, called glucagon, in regulating healthy blood sugar levels. Too much of one can suppress the other, causing our bodies to become resistant, leading to diseases like type II diabetes.
The key to proper hormone regulation is not to flood the bloodstream with sugar by eating a high-carb, high-sugar diet. When we eat mostly fat and protein while limiting carbohydrate intake, our bodies actually start to break down fat stores and find healthier, more natural sources of blood sugar. Fat is where it’s at.