Eat The "Right" Fats!

Food is the fuel source needed to operate our bodies. This allows us to physically do what we do! The fuel comes in 3 different sources or what we call macronutrients; proteins, fats and carbohydrates. Let’s talk about fats!

Dietary fats are essential to your health, providing our bodies with energy and supporting biological processes. Let’s start with energy. In comparison to the other macronutrients; fats are the most energy-dense, providing 9 calories per gram. It’s more calories than both carbohydrates and proteins, which contain 4 calories per gram each.

Beyond providing energy; here are the other major roles that dietary fats provide:

  • Helps make and balance hormones

  • Forms our cell membranes and supports cell function/structure.

  • Forms our brain and nervous system

  • Helps transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and vitamin absorption

  • Can help improve cell signaling and communication/nerve transmission

  • Regulate inflammation

  • Helps us feel more satisfied with meals

  • Helps protect our organs

  • Helps keep the body warm by providing insulation

  • And provides us with two fatty acids that we cannot produce on our own:

  • Linoleic acid (an omega-6 fatty acid)

  • Linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid)

Just like everything in life, there are the good guys and the bad ones. So let’s discuss. There are 4 major dietary fats found in foods, which have different chemical structures and physical properties. These are saturated, trans fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Let’s talk about the “bad guys" first: Saturated & Trans Fats!

Saturated fats or solid fats come from animal-based foods like beef, pork, poultry, eggs, full fat dairy products and oils like coconut and palm. Saturated fats can cause problems with your cholesterol levels, which can increase your risk of heart disease.

So what is cholesterol? Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that is found in all the cells in your body. It helps us do a lot of vital things like build cells, digest food, and make hormones. While cholesterol is needed for our body to function properly, too much of it can be a bad thing. High cholesterol can lead to serious problems in our blood, including causing plaque build up in our arteries, like a clogged sink drain, which leads to decreased blood flow to different organ systems. When blood flow decreases, our organs are deprived of oxygen and nutrients that are essential for optimal function and life itself. When decreased blood flow occurs in the heart, a person can experience chest pain, decreased exercise tolerance, shortness of breath or fatigue. Eventually when heart cells are depleted long enough or severely enough, heart cells no longer function in the area of the deficit of blood. This situation is commonly referred to as a heart attack or myocardial ischemia, if you want to sound really brainy. If you want to keep that beautiful big brain functioning properly, you definitely want to keep good blood flow to it. Decreased blood flow to the brain can lead to dizziness, decreased cognition and a stroke when brain cells die. This can cause permanent loss of function of the nervous system in parts of the body that the brain controls, including loss of sensation, muscle control, speech, vision or other brain functions when this occurs.

The heart and brain are the well known areas of the body that can be affected by the buildup of cholesterol in the walls of our arteries, however blood is constantly flowing in all parts of our bodies. For instance, when our intestines are blocked it can cause intense abdominal pain, destruction of our ability to process and eliminate solid waste. This is referred to as ischemic bowel. Another example that can occur is when decreased blood flow to our kidneys due to blocked arteries can result in dangerously high blood pressure as well as other problems, including kidney failure. When our muscles are starved of oxygen and nutrition we experience pain in those muscle areas. This is called peripheral artery disease.

So replacing foods that are high in saturated fats with healthier options can eliminate or reduce the risk for blockages to occur in your arteries. We also produce cholesterol in our livers, so it is always a good idea to have your cholesterol levels screened by your doctor, even if you eat a very healthy diet. .

Trans fats are found in foods and categories in two divisions: naturally-occurring and artificial trans fats. Naturally-occurring trans fats are produced in the gut of some animals and foods made from these animals (e.g., milk and meat products) may contain small quantities of these fats. Artificial trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. The primary dietary source for trans fats in processed food is called “partially hydrogenated oils."

Trans fats are easy to use, inexpensive to produce and last a long time. Trans fats give foods a desirable taste and texture. Many restaurants and fast-food outlets use trans fats to deep-fry foods because oils with trans fats can be used many times in commercial fryers. Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. The HDL cholesterol is called “good” because it helps take the bad cholesterol out of the lining of your arteries to prevent plaques from building up. So eating a diet higher in trans fat increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke as well as other areas of blockage discussed above. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Time to discuss the “good guy” types of dietary fats. These are referred to as unsaturated fats which includes monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats lower the risk for plaque buildup and disease. Foods higher in good fat include vegetable oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish. These oils are normally liquid at room temperature but will turn solid when chilled. Both will also contribute vitamin E to our diet.

Monounsaturated fats are found in olive, canola, peanut, sunflower and safflower oils, as well as in avocados, peanut butter and most nuts. It's also part of most animal fats such as fats from chicken, pork and beef. Eating more monounsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke compared with eating more saturated fats. They also provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells.

And last but not least are polyunsaturated fats. These fats are found in sunflower, corn, soybean and cottonseed oils. It's also found in walnuts, pine nuts, flax, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids fall into this category and are found in fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and sardines. These are crucial in helping support and build the cell walls in our bodies. Polyunsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol levels in your blood which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke. They also provide fuel to the body as well as nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cell structure and immune system.

Recommended sources of dietary fats: (diverse, whole, less-processed foods)

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Avocados

  • Dairy

  • Eggs

  • Fatty fish

  • Beef, pork and lamb

  • Poultry

  • Wild game

  • Olives and extra-virgin olive oil

  • Fresh coconut

Time to go nuts! Not only are they fat however they will provide you with: protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals and antioxidants. The following are great to add to your meals or snack options on the go: almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Walnuts are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, similar to the heart-healthy fat found in oily fish, but they are a lot easier to stash in your pocket or purse. Probably much less noticeable by those around you as well.

How about fish? Essential fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that must be obtained from your diet and these are omega-3 & omega-6.

Omega-3 fatty acids come in 3 forms:

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)-found in plants

  • Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)

  • Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)

  • EPA and DHA are naturally found in egg yolk, cold-water fish and shellfish like tuna, salmon, mackerel, cod, crab, shrimp and oysters.

Benefits of omega-3:

  • Reduce blood clotting, dilate blood vessels and reduce inflammation

  • Important for eye and brain development

  • Act to reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels

Omega-6: essential fatty acid found in flaxseed, canola and soybean oils. Works opposite to omega-3’s and if too much is consumed it can contribute to increased inflammation and blood clotting. So finding the right combined balance and power (omega-3 and omega-6) will help maintain normal circulation and help with our biological processes.

So what oils should you use when cooking? Try these cooking oils, for they are less saturated fat: canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean and sunflower oils. The American Heart Association recommends using fats that are less than 4 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon serving.

We hope this has been useful information to increase the opportunity for the success of your health, fitness and life journey. Please feel free to keep the questions and comments coming in on our website as we very much enjoy hearing how your progress is going, receiving suggestions for future blogs or podcasts or any other means of interacting with our Self-ish community! Sign up to become a Self-ish Life member so you won't miss out on exclusive upcoming events and opportunities.

Be healthy!

Jacki & Toby

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