Though we are starting to see a shift towards healthy fats in our society (especially with the rise of popular diets such as the Ketogenic diet) there is still a lot of fat fear lingering around.
Many of us tend to think that eating fat means packing on the pounds, but this is far from the truth. Healthy fats are a crucial part of our diet that we must obtain in order to be our healthiest selves.
Of course, as with everything, quantity and quality does matter as not all fats are created equal. Eating unhealthy fats can lead to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and increased inflammatory levels in the body. So it's important to know which fats to consume to support your health, and which ones to avoid.
What are healthy fats?
Healthy fats include foods like avocado, olive oil, coconut, fatty fish, raw nuts and seeds, grass fed butter, eggs, grass-fed organic beef, and ghee.
See below as we break down the different types of fats in greater detail.
Artificial trans fats are created through the process of hydrogenation of vegetable oils. These are genetically modified oils that are linked to unhealthy cholesterol levels, increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, obesity, inflammation, and chronic disease. Avoid these fats by eliminating processed and fried foods from your diet. Common convenience foods that contain trans fats include cookies, cupcakes, microwave popcorn, donuts, pizza, and many fried foods.
Although recently demonized, saturated fats can be healthy. For instance, medium chain saturated fats (found in coconut) can help increase fat burning, provide a quick source of energy for the brain, and provide antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Short chain saturated fats (found in ghee and butter) provide a source of fuel for our good gut bacteria and intestinal cells.
In addition, saturated fats are vital for cell membrane function, healthy hormones, reducing hunger, and supporting immune health. Saturated fats can be found in coconut, ghee, butter, cheese, and eggs. These fats are ideal for high cooking temperatures too.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats (found in almonds, avocados and olives) and polyunsaturated fats (found in salmon, algae and flaxseeds). These fats are popular in the mediterranean diet and help promote a healthier heart and reduce inflammation in the body.
Omega 3 fatty acids include ALA, EPA & DHA. These fatty acids are essential because we must obtain them from the diet as our body cannot manufacture them itself. However, we are lacking them in the Standard American Diet today and this may be a contributing factor to the rise in chronic and inflammatory diseases. Omega 3 fats are especially beneficial for lowering inflammation, improving cardiovascular health, and promoting brain health. (DHA makes up about 90% of the fat in your brain.)
You can find ALA in nuts and seeds, however you want to focus on getting EPA & DHA directly to get the most benefits.
EPA & DHA fats can be found in algae and fatty fish. To get these fats in your diet, choose wild cold water fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, anchovies, or choose a good quality fish oil supplement with third party testing. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can also opt for an algae supplement.
Though also essential, omega 6’s are less commonly deficient in the diet. They can promote inflammation in the body but this is primarily caused by eating too many omega 6’s and not enough omega 3’s. We must pay attention to the ratio that we are getting from our diets in order to avoid any negative effects.
It is estimated that the population consumes on average a ratio of 10 to 1, to 20 to 1 (omega 6 to omega 3), though we should be aiming for closer to 3 to 1.
Omega 6 fats can help lower inflammation and can be found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, such as sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, grape seed oil
and peanut oil.
Tahini is one of our favourite sources of omega 6 fats. Check out this simple tahini egg salad recipe.
What are the benefits of healthy fats?
The right fats contain so many benefits for our health; they increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), they make hormones, they support hair and skin health, they regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, they protect against cardiovascular disease, and they lower inflammation, to name just a few!
Our brain is mainly made up of fat, and specifically omega 3 fats. This is why it is so important to get these in healthy amounts in the diet. DHA (a fatty acid found in omega 3’s) has specifically been shown to improve brain function, support the creation of new brain cells, and provide protection for existing brain cells as well as against degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s.
What are some sources of DHA? Wild fatty fish including sardines, salmon, mackerel, and anchovies, pacific oysters, egg yolks, algae and ground beef.
You can also supplement with a good quality fish oil or algae supplement to ensure you are getting enough.
Blood Sugar Balance
Fats are the only macronutrient that do not affect blood sugar, which is why they are so important for conditions like diabetes and insulin resistance. When combining with carbohydrates, fats can help lower the blood sugar response by slowing down the absorption of the carbohydrate. This supports steady energy levels, as opposed to spikes and crashes.
Fats have been negatively linked to heart health over the years, however this is largely due to increased inflammatory levels in the body, not due to fat consumption. Research is increasingly showing that specific fats have protective benefits for cardiovascular health. For instance, omega 3 fats have been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels, whilst improving HDL levels in the blood.
Healthy fats are essential for healthy hormones and fertility. Not only do healthy fats make up the building blocks of hormones, they also increase nutrient absorption, lower inflammation, improve egg quality, and promote ovulation.
It’s important to be eating enough fats to give your body the signal that you are sufficiently nourished to handle a pregnancy and grow a baby.
Essential fats help strengthen the skin and retain moisture, resulting in healthier, more youthful looking skin.
If you struggle with skin conditions like acne, dermatitis, or psoriasis, make sure you are including enough omega 3 fatty acids in your diet, or find a good quality supplement. Omega 3 fats work to improve skin by decreasing inflammation and insulin-like growth factor, which are major factors in developing acne and other skin problems.
Eating sufficient amounts of essential fats can help increase metabolism, promote satiety, regulate blood sugar, reduce inflammation, lower cravings, and balance hormones, which all result in increased fat burning and healthy weight management.
When you eat healthy fats with your meal, you feel fuller for longer, have more energy, and avoid blood sugar spikes and crashes. This also makes it easier to make better food choices, complete your workouts, sleep soundly, and avoid crazy cravings and food binges.
So don’t be scared of fats! Of course, be mindful of your portions but be sure to include the healthy fats mentioned in this article as part of your healthy diet and weight loss strategy.
Sugar: what’s the big deal?
Sugar has taken over our food supply and has become one of the biggest contributors to the rising levels of chronic diseases worldwide, not to mention obesity. It’s hiding in all of our foods though you may not even be aware of it.
The average adult is consuming 22 teaspoons of sugar per day, whilst the average child is consuming 34 teaspoons per day. And this is just getting worse and worse.
So why is this a problem?
The research now can accurately state that sugar is feeding disease.
Sugar contributes to inflammation in the body, alters gut health by feeding pathogenic bacteria and depleting good bacteria, depletes vital minerals and vitamins, elevates triglyceride levels, lowers good cholesterol and raises bad cholesterol, raises blood pressure and blood sugar, and increases fat storage.
It is also a leading cause of diabetes, non alcoholic fatty liver disease, and certain cancers.
Why is it so hard to quit?
You may know that you need to quit sugar but actually doing it is another story. Sugar can be addictive and that’s what makes it so hard to quit. Sugar consumption can modify reward centres in the brain and interfere with leptin and ghrelin signalling (the hormones involved in telling you when you are hungry and full), as well as insulin production, which can trigger overconsumption and cravings.
Though it is recommended to decrease your sugar consumption across the board, occasional sugar consumption in small amounts is not something to be fearful of. The best sources of sugars are raw honey, dates, fresh fruit, molasses, coconut sugar, maple syrup, monk-fruit, stevia, lucuma, and yakon syrup.
Not all sugars are created equal. For instance, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is one of the most detrimental sugars as it is highly processed and goes straight to your liver. This can result in fatty liver disease, insulin resistance, and obesity.
Some of the most detrimental sweeteners include cane sugar, agave, barley malt, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, carob syrup, corn syrup, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, HFCS, malt syrup, raw sugar, sorghum syrup, turbinado, white sugar, and artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and saccharin.
Hidden sources of sugars
Beware when you are shopping as sugar is hidden in everything! Your best bet is to avoid processed and packaged foods altogether and to focus on whole foods. Sugars are hidden in obvious forms such as baked goods, ice cream, soda, and desserts, however in less obvious foods as well like salad dressings, pasta sauce, chips, cereal, protein bars, energy drinks, yogurts and blended drinks.
When you are buying packaged foods, always read the nutrition label and ingredients to verify if there are any added sugars listed.