Contrary to what some people believe, the idea that all fat is bad for you and that it automatically makes you fat is a common and persistent misconception. The truth is that your body needs fat to function. This macronutrient is a major source of energy and more. Fats help keep you warm, your body needs them to absorb important nutrients and play a crucial role in some of your body’s daily functions.
What is healthy fat?
Fats are often feared and misunderstood. The very word ‘fat’ terrifies many people. In order not to be frightened, you just need to sort it out.
Fat is one of the three macronutrients that our bodies need to function properly, alongside carbohydrates and protein. It is a source of energy and provides important functions in the body.
Fat is a type of nutrient that is composed of molecules called fatty acids. There are three types of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are found in foods such as butter, cheese, and meat. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature and are found in foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
Types of fat. What are they?
When it comes to dietary fats, the most important thing is the type of fat you eat.
Instead of sticking to a low-fat diet, it is more important to focus on eating healthy ‘good’ fats and avoiding unhealthy ‘bad’ fats. Fat is an important part of a healthy diet.
‘Good’ unsaturated fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, they are able to reduce the risk of disease. Foods high in good fats include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soya, and corn), nuts, avocado, seeds, and fatty fish.
‘Bad’ fats, also called trans fats, increase the risk of disease, even if consumed in small amounts. Products containing trans fats are mostly found in processed foods made with trans fats from partially hydrogenated oil. Fortunately, trans fats have been eliminated from many products.
Saturated fats. Foods high in saturated fats include red meat, butter, nuts, cheese, yoghurt, and ice cream. Some vegetable fats, such as coconut oil and palm oil, are also rich in saturated fats. Processed foods are also high in this kind of fat. Such foods are bad for your health. So when you see the words ‘saturated fats’ on the label, do not be afraid of them. You need to think about the foods you choose.
Six benefits of consuming healthy fats
It’s important to remember that fats can actually contribute to a healthy diet and should not be viewed as the sole cause of weight gain.
1Optimises brain function
Good fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids, play an important role in brain development. There is research demonstrating their role in improving mood as well as their potential to improve neurodegenerative mechanisms in the brain.
2Improves heart health
Research shows that healthy fats such as omega-3 fatty acids (found in oily fish) are great for maintaining healthy cholesterol levels. Eating these fats can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and improve heart health.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids may help reduce the amount of fat in the liver. One study, involving 1,424 patients, found that taking omega-3 can improve liver health.
4Strengthens your bones
Strong bones need more than just calcium. A study conducted in Canada, confirmed the link between monounsaturated fat intake and bone strength. The results show that eating foods rich in essential fatty acids can improve bone health.
5Better skin condition
If you want to have healthy, glowing skin, you need to have plenty of healthy fats in your diet. Healthy skin needs essential fatty acids. This is because omega-6 and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats cause the growth of eicosanoids, which affect the skin’s inflammatory response.
6Promotes a healthy body composition
Are you looking to lose a few unwanted pounds? Eating foods rich in healthy fats can help. Eating enough healthy monounsaturated fats can help you lose fat. This diet is therefore considered an excellent alternative for people who find it difficult to follow a high-carb, low-fat diet.
Drawbacks of fats
We bet you didn’t know that overeating healthy fats can have not-so-attractive consequences.
An excessive intake of any macronutrient, including fats, carbohydrates and proteins, can lead to weight gain. However, too much fat is particularly dangerous, as fat contains 9 calories per gram. Being overweight is not just a cosmetic problem. Being overweight increases the risk of different health issues.
The World Health Organisation estimates that trans fats are linked to 500,000 cardiovascular deaths each year.
Eating fat-rich foods increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is because foods high in trans fats increase levels of bad low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or LDL. Unhealthy levels of LDL cholesterol contribute to the formation of plaques in the coronary arteries, which supply the heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood. Over time the plaques can harden and narrow the coronary arteries, disrupting the flow of blood to the heart. This can lead to a heart attack, which can then cause serious health problems or even death.
Regular consumption of trans and saturated fats can increase the risk of developing various types of cancer, including breast cancer.
Epidemiological studies have shown an association between dietary fat intake and the incidence of various types of cancer. Moreover, epidemiological studies as well as studies in animal models have shown that not only the amount but also the type of fat consumed is important.
Excess inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases. Some studies indicate that artificial trans fats increase inflammatory markers when replacing other nutrients in the diet.
Almost inevitable problems if your diet is low in healthy fats
Dietary fat deficiency is rare in healthy people who eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Yet certain conditions can put you at risk of fat deficiency.
If you do not get enough dietary fats, some biological processes in your body may not run as efficiently. So let’s take a closer look at some signs that your diet is not getting enough fat.
Problem One. Vitamin deficiency
Your body needs dietary fats to absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K. An inadequate intake of these essential nutrients can, among other things, increase your risk:
blood clots under the fingernails
Problem Two. Dermatitis
Research has found that fats are an important part of the structure of skin cells and help the skin to maintain its moisture barrier. If you don’t get enough dietary fats, it can affect the health of your skin and lead to dermatitis.
Problem Three. Low immunity
A drastic restriction of fat intake can weaken your immune system and lead to more frequent illnesses. The body needs fats to produce several molecules that stimulate immune cell activity. Essential fatty acids are also important for immune cell growth. In particular, the body requires omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids for this purpose.
Problem Four. Slow wound healing
According to research, fats are needed by the body to create many important molecules that control the body’s inflammatory response. Low fat intake can disrupt this response and lead to slow wound healing.
Problem Five. The loss of hair
The fatty molecules in your body, called prostaglandins, contribute to hair growth. Eating too little essential fats can change the structure of your hair, and a study suggests that it can also increase the risk of scalp or eyebrow hair loss.
Top 10 products high in fats
We won’t leave you alone with just the reasons for the lack of fats in your diet. We will show you which foods contain high amounts of them.
Other products rich in healthy fats are olives, fresh coconut, lamb, pine nuts, and avocado.
Dietary fat recommendations
According to World Health Organisation to avoid unhealthy weight gain:
1. Total fat intake should be less than 30% of total calorie intake
2. Saturated fat should be less than 10% of the total calorie intake.
3. Trans fats should be less than 1% of your total calorie intake.
Let’s sum fats up
Your body needs dietary fats for many biological processes. If your diet is low in fat, you may notice symptoms such as dry rashes, hair loss, a weakened immune system and vitamin deficiency problems.
To help maintain good health, most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. These fats are typically found in fatty fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and avocados.
Hungry for knowledge? Here you go!
Dr. Sten Ekberg is a holistic doctor, former Olympic athlete and nutritionist at his office, Wellness For Life, in Georgia, USA. He is a popular YouTuber as well. His very insightful YouTube channel has 2.3 mln subscribers. We strongly recommend watching his video about the best fats to eat for optimal health.
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