I find it interesting that where healthy diets are concerned there has been a huge push away from trans fats and more of a trend towards natural and organic food. While this is a step in the right direction, I also find it interesting that there is still a stigma that fat in your diet is bad for you. In reality, many fats found in food are naturally occurring and even vital for optimal health. Still people want non-fat milk, Fat Free butter substitutes, and even minimal amounts of body fat percentage on their bodies.
The use of the word fat should not be an umbrella term collecting and labeling all of the various sources as the same. Like everything in life there is the good, the bad and the ugly. In this article my goal is to give you simple reasons why you should consume fat in your healthy diet and I will list five fat sources that you should consider adding into your diet for optimal health.
Why are people still avoiding fat? Fat, also known as lipids, are everywhere in our bodies. The cells that make up our body are structurally constructed with phospholipid layers for protection. Our nerves are covered by myelin sheets (made from lipids) for insulation. Even our brains are made up of about 60% lipids.
If fats make up a good portion of our cell structure then certainly not all fats are bad and we need fats to build these structurally sound cells. Besides cell building and nerve insulation, fats also attribute to:
- Absorption of fat soluble vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids
- Improved blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels
- Improved brain, heart, liver and lung function
- Reduced inflammation, cancer and heart disease risk
- Production and regulation of hormones in the body
I know what you may be thinking, “Isn’t this the exact opposite of what I have been told?” The answer really depends on the fat sources you consume. Go for those unnatural, manufactured fat choices like trans-fats, and hydrogenated oils and you will watch your health slowly deteriorate.
In my attempt to avoid a boring scientifically saturated article on the different types of fats explaining which fats are good and which fats are bad; I want to make this simple for everyone. Like I mentioned in my first installment of Should you Supplement; Think natural and you can’t go wrong. Below are five natural fat sources that you can add to your diet that will allow you to receive the many health benefits that the right fats have to offer. I have purposely left fish oil off the list because I covered its benefits in great detail in my second Should you Supplement article.
I am very fortunate to live in California where this super fruit (yes it is technically a fruit) is abundant and extremely tasty. Avocados are loaded with the healthy oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat, which helps lower LDL cholesterol (bad) and raise HDL cholesterol (good) and reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Like avocados, extra virgin olive oil is mostly composed (70%) of oleic acid so the positive cholesterol benefits and reduced risk of heart disease are still part of the benefits. Extra virgin olive oil has also shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Like many things in life, you must get good quality olive oil, so yes, buying the “extra virgin” variety is important. The title simply means that the oil has been minimally processed so many of the healthy vitamins and fatty acids remain intact.
Most nuts in their natural state are full of good fats and provide many health benefits; however, one may stand above all of the others, the walnut. Walnuts contain the highest amount of Omega 3 fatty acids over all of the other nuts. I discussed the necessity of having a diet high in omega 3s in my fish oil article and their healthy benefits are numerous. They play a role in lowering triglyceride levels in the blood, maintain high levels of HDL cholesterol, reduce plaque formations and the list goes on and on. We talked earlier about the brain being composed of 60% fat and walnuts have been shown to help with the brain’s growth, reproduction of cells, and its proper function. When you get walnuts, make sure you get them in their purest state, raw. Avoid “roasted, flavored, and glazed” varieties because they have been processed and all of their previous health benefits are null and void.
Coconut oil had gotten a bad rap over the years which is why it is overlooked as healthy food resource. The early studies from the 1980s show the negative effects of coconut oil consumption used a manipulated form of the oil (hydrogenated); we know when things are changed from their natural state they are no longer good. Organic extra virgin coconut oil has so many health benefits you should go out to the store now to pick some up. Coconut oil has been shown to reduce inflammation and fight many diseases because of a special fatty acid medium chain triglyceride known as lauric acid. Lauric acid has antimicrobial, antibacterial and antiviral qualities which prevent and combat a ton of pathogens and diseases.
Oh no, I said the “B” word. I cringe when I hear people say things like “I ate the bread with no butter” or “At least I didn’t use butter” or my personal favorite “I used this fat-free butter substitute spread for my potatoes.” Again, butter is good for you when you get it from the right source, and when you do get the right source it should be used as part of a healthy diet. Real butter comes from cows that eat their real diet of grass. This grass feeding gives the nice, rich yellow color that indicates a dense nutrient concentration. This butter contains omega 3 fatty acids and conjugated linolenic acid (CLA) which are both absent in grain fed cow butter. CLA has numerous health benefits which include: anti cancer properties and even aids in fat loss, especially around the abdomen. If these benefits aren’t enough to get everyone to add a little bit of high quality butter into their diets I’m not sure what else will convince you.
Hopefully this eased some of your fears of fats and now you are more knowledgeable when choosing between the right and wrong kinds to consume. If you consume the right kinds of fat within your healthy diet your health and well-being will shine like never before.
- Bowden, Jonny, The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth, Fair Winds Publishing, 2007.
- Enig, Mary, Know Your Fats, Bethesda Press, 2000.