Fat. What is it? Should we avoid it? Why do we need it?
So many things to consider when standing in the aisles of the grocery store staring blankly at all of the “healthy” options in front of us. Now that summer is here and we are outside and more active (hopefully) and trying to shed our winter flab, I thought I’d help to demystify what are GOOD fats and what are BAD fats.
Basically, there are two type of main fats: Saturated and Unsaturated.
Saturated Fats: When the molecule in the saturated fat molecule is packed with hydrogen atoms leaving no more empty spaces for additional molecules to attach.
So basically, this fat is so dense that it makes it very difficult for your body to break down. It’s not a good idea to consume this often (i.e. by eating lots of fast food, processed foods, etc.). Like everything in life, enjoy in moderation.
How do we obtain it? Two ways – animal and plant sources.
Animal Sources: red meat, pork, dairy fats, butter and cheese
Plant Sources: Tropical oils –> coconut oil, palm kernal oil and cocoa butter.
Using these tropical oils to cook with is a better bet than say olive oil because since they are high density fats, the nutrients in the oils will not break down. And yes, there are plenty of health benefits to the plant sourced saturated fats – but, like I said, everything in moderation! I’ll get into more of these benefits later on. Isn’t it better to get your fats from whole foods rather than chemically produced foods? That way, you know that what you are consuming has nutrients in it.
I usually scoop a tablespoon of organic extra virgin coconut oil into my frying pan when I make a stir fry or fry up some chicken. A little goes a long way.
The second type are unsaturated fats.
Unsaturated Fats: These fat molecules have empty spaces that are not taken up by hydrogen molecules, therefore, our bodies can break these fats down much easier. There are two types: Mono-unsaturated and Poly-unsaturated fats. In order for them to maintain their nutrients, it’s best to only heat them slightly or not at all (i.e. serve as part of a salad dressing, more on that in a minute!).
What’s the difference between Mono and Poly?
Mono-unsaturated fats: This is when the the fat molecule has one bond and two empty spaces not taken up by hydrogen molecules. That empty space is what helps absorb other nutrients that consume alongside the fat. This oil should only be heated slightly.
Sources include mainly vegetable and nut oils such as: almond, olive, peanut and canola.
Poly-unsaturated fats: This when the fat molecule has many spaces not taken up by hydrogen molecules (even more nutrients can be absorbed and this fat is even easier to break down in our bodies). Because this fat is unstable, its sources should never be heated, otherwise, it would lose all of its nutritional properties. Not good for business and really, quite pointless since you’ve spent the money and time preparing your food just to have it be devoid of any health benefits. Cooking fail.
There are 2 types of poly-unsaturated fats: Omega-3 and Omega-6 known as Essential Fatty Acids or EFAs.
Why are poly-unsaturated fats amazing? Well, among a whole slew of health benefits, one of the main things that they do is help control your cholesterol. They increase the “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins aka HDL). HDL is responsible for carrying the cholesterol from the tissues to the liver and thus, flushing it out. On the flip side, poly-unsaturated fats lowers your “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoproteins aka LDL). Seems like a good trade-off.
Omega-3: This little guy slows down the formation of blood clots in the arteries and controls your blood pressure, increases your energy, improves your learning, decreases your risk of heart disease and assists in weight loss.
Omega-6: This is one of the components in all cell membranes. In humans, it’s found in the brain and nerves. Omega-6 is needed for healthy skin, proper function of the reproductive system, to regulate blood pressure, and to promote blood clotting.
Here are some great food sources for Omega-3 and Omega-6: flax seeds, hemp seeds, almonds, walnuts, avocados, pumpkin seeds, green leafy veggies, tofu, soy beans, eggs and cold-water fish.
Now that it’s summer and you probably don’t feel like standing in front of a stove, plus you probably would rather be taking advantage of the sunshine (you know, for those 3 months we get it) then why not eat more salads? They are quick, easy and there are so many ways to get creative so that they never get dull.
Usually, for lunch, I’ll have a spinach salad with fried tofu, tuna or a hard boiled egg, some avocado, seeds, and veggies (tomatoes, carrots, cucumber or whatever else is in my fridge). Rather than buying commercial salad dressing, I make my own. This is a really simple recipe that takes me less than 3 minutes to make and it costs pennies to make.
- Apple Cider Vinegar (organic if possible): 2 tbsps
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil (organic if possible): 2 tbsps
- Agave or Honey: 1 tsp
- 1 clove garlic – minced (optional)
In a small bowl or dish mix all of the ingredients and stir. Done! This serves two.
Next time, I will discuss our enemy, hydrogenated fats.