Fats in food have been repeatedly stigmatized as causes of weight gain and heart problems. If you have ever walked through a supermarket, you may have noticed that several products are advertised as fat-free, and therefore the “healthier” option.
Removing fat from your diet or a product does not make it healthier. Fats are one of the most important nutrients our bodies need to function.
While some types of fat are detrimental to our bodies, there are also many sources of healthy fats you should make a part of your diet.
What Is Fat?
Fats are compounds that occur naturally in our bodies as well as in various types of food.
On the atomic level, they are made up of three molecules, called a triglyceride. Fats can also be referred to as fatty acids or lipids.
There are four main types of fats you should be familiar with.
Trans fats are a type of processed fats, usually derived from vegetable oils. They are the least healthy type of fat to consume, as they increase amounts of bad LDL cholesterol while decreasing amounts of good HDL cholesterol in the body.
They are typically used in processed and packaged foods.
Saturated fats are the most common types of fat Americans consume. While saturated fats are less harmful to the body than trans fats, their consumption should be limited as they contribute to increased levels of bad cholesterol.
Saturated fats are largely present in meat and dairy products, as well as packaged baked goods.
Monounsaturated fats are the first type of healthy fat. While they were not always considered healthy, studies have shown that they do not increase levels of bad cholesterol nor directly contribute to heart problems.
Monounsaturated fats are found in certain types of oils, nuts, and plants.
Polyunsaturated fats are often considered to be the most essential type of fat. They make up the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are very beneficial to the body.
Sources of polyunsaturated fats include certain types of oils, plants, and fish.
How The Body Uses Fat
Like all the essential nutrients, fats have several major roles in helping our bodies function.
While the body typically uses carbohydrates as a primary source of energy, fat is stored in our bodies as a “backup” source, just in case carbohydrates are not readily available as fuel.
Stored fat also helps regulate metabolism as well as the efficiency through which energy is used.
Protection and Insulation
No matter how slim or muscular a body is, all bodies contain fat. This is not something to worry about, however, as without fat, our internal organs and tissues would have no protection or insulation.
Fat in the body acts as a cushion that prevents external damage to organs. Our bodies have to maintain a certain temperature, which fat helps maintain.
Absorption of Nutrients
Nutrients are absorbed in the body in a variety of different ways. Fat-soluble vitamins are absorbed and stored exclusively by fatty tissues. These vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Without fat, many essential vitamins would not be properly absorbed by our bodies for use.
Sources of Healthy Fats
In adding healthy fats to your diet, make sure to focus on foods that are high in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. It is best to avoid or limit the intake of saturated fats.
Here are the best sources of healthy fats to incorporate into your food.
While oils are essential to a fully-stocked kitchen, they are tricky to navigate, as many are made up of harmful saturated fats.
When buying oils, choose:
- Canola Oil
- Olive Oil
- Peanut Oil
- Sesame Oil
- Avocado Oil
- Soybean Oil
- Safflower oil
- Coconut Oil
- Palm Oil
- Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are the healthiest and most delicious sources of fat. Some of the healthiest nuts and seeds include:
- Peanuts and peanut butter
- Sunflower Seeds
- Sesame Seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
When buying nuts and seeds, make sure to avoid varieties that are roasted with sugar syrups or excessive salt.
Fatty fish can be the healthiest type of “meat” to incorporate into your diet, and they contain plenty of omega-3 fatty acids that can lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.
While many varieties are rich in nutrients and healthy fat, focus on the following:
For best results, avoid canned fish, as they can be high in sodium.
While fruits and vegetables are not typically high in fat content, avocados are a good choice if you want to add some fresh produce to your diet.
Olives are also high in healthy fats, however, because they are usually pickled, be aware of sodium content.
Dairy and Dairy Alternatives
Most dairy products contain saturated fats, yogurt and eggs are both heart-healthy and deliver a punch of protein. While you do not have to avoid consuming all types of dairy, we recommend you try incorporating non-dairy milk into your diet to increase your intake of healthy fats.
- Soy Milk
- Almond Milk
- Cashew Milk
- Oat Milk
There are many different varieties of milk alternatives. Try them out to see what you like best.
Fats are essential nutrients and are necessary to body function. They provide the body with energy, protection, insulation, as well as help it absorb essential vitamins it needs.
While there are different types of fat, some of which are very harmful to the body, you should not be afraid to incorporate them into your diet. There are several sources of healthy fat you can choose from.
While healthy fats do not have the same detrimental effects on the body as saturated fats do, this does not mean you should not be aware of your intake.
Because fat is high in calories, excessive intake can lead to weight gain. Healthy fats are best paired with a nutrient-dense and balanced diet, in which you are consuming all of the nutrients you need and can avoid any harmful side effects.
The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between | Harvard Health Publishing
Cholesterol: Types, Tests, Treatments, Prevention | Cleveland Clinic
What Do Fats Do in the Body? | National Institute of General Medical Sciences