Choosing Healthy Fats – Good Fats, Bad Fats, and the Power of Omega-3s!

If you ask folks what type of food one should avoid, most will answer fats. This is true because when taken in large quantities, some fats are bad for your waistline and they increase the risk of developing heart diseases. However, not all types of fat are bad. In fact, there are several healthy fats that we cannot live without because they are needed for proper brain and heart functioning. Among these is Omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods such as cold-water fish, walnuts, sturgeon, mackerel, herrings, and anchovies.

But Why Are People Afraid of Fatty Foods?

A visit to any grocery confirms how bad people are obsessed with no and low-fat diet. You will be bombarded by the labeled ‘guilt-free or fat-free’ options ranging from low-fat cakes, frozen meals, cookies, fat-free cheese, yogurt, milk, and more. But just as the number of low-fat foods has exploded, so has obesity rates. Clearly, the low-fat diets have not delivered on their healthy or slender waistline promise.

The reason behind the failure of ‘guilt-free’ diet is simple; not all fatty foods are bad. Good or healthy fats are needed for proper brain functioning, to boost mood, to control weight, and to fight fatigue. In addition, healthy fats are essential during infancy where they play a vital role in brain function and neurological development.

The solution is not avoiding fat in entirety, it is mastering how to make healthy fatty food choices and substituting bad fats with healthy fats.

Facts and Myths about Fat-Free Diets

Myth #1: All fats are the same and equally bad for your waistline and health.

Fact: Some fats, termed good fats or healthy fats, reduce the risk of getting heart diseases, and lower your blood cholesterol level. Another category, dubbed bad or unhealthy fats, raise your cholesterol level and increase the risk of getting heart diseases and developing obesity.

Myth #2: Fat-free diets are healthy.

Fact: “Fat-free” labels on packed foods do not mean you can don on them as much as you want without adverse consequences. Most fat-free diets are high in refined carbohydrates, calories, and refined sugars.

Myth #3: A fat-free diet boosts weight loss

Fact: The only solid weight loss strategy is to cut calories and avoiding overeating. As a matter of fact, since 1980, the obesity rate for children (2-19 years) has increased by 300% (2) and this corresponds to the emergence of the low-fat diets.

There are 4 major types of fats found in food and animal foods:

– Bad fats: trans fats.
– Healthy fats: Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats (includes omega-3s).
– Currently under debate: Saturated fats.

Note that classification of food as either healthy or unhealthy involves more than the quantity of fat and/or type of fat in it. Other factors such as how food is grown or raised, how it is prepared, and preservatives or additives used make a big difference as to whether a particular type of food is unhealthy or okay to consume.

For example, although some types of fish are rich in the much-needed Omega-3 fatty acids, deep frying them in refined vegetable oil may add unhealthy trans-fat, making the fish a health hazard.

Also, while polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated are generally considered good fats, those from commercially manufactured oils are universally considered dangerous.

The Saturated Fat Debate

There is a heated debate in the healthy eating world about the dangers and merits of saturated fats, and there is no conclusive evidence on where it lies on the spectrum of bad and good fats. Most large organizations hold that intake of saturated fats increases one’s risk of developing stroke and cardiovascular diseases, but a growing number of recent studies argue that saturated fats from certain sources contribute to overall healthy and weight control (3, 4).

Tips for incorporating good unsaturated fat to your meals

Healthy unsaturated fats decrease your risk of developing stroke and heart diseases and lowers blood cholesterol levels. In addition, they benefit blood sugar and insulin levels. However, omega-3 fatty acids are especially beneficial to one’s mood and brain. The best sources of unsaturated fats are seeds, nuts, and fish.

Good Sources of Monounsaturated Fats

– Olives
– Avocados
– Nuts (Peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pecans, hazelnuts, cashews).
– Natural peanut butter with salt and peanuts only.

Healthy Sources of Polyunsaturated fat

– Tofu and Soymilk
– Walnuts
– Pumpkin seeds, flax, sesame, and sunflower.
– Fatty fish (herrings, trout, mackerel, salmon, sardines, tuna)

Beware of Modern Unsaturated Oils

There are two main categories of unsaturated oils:

– Cold-pressed/traditional oils such as peanut oil, sesame oil, and extra virgin olive are rich in monounsaturated fats and are made without heat or chemicals.
– Modern oils such as soybean oil, corn oil, sunflower oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, safflower oil and soybean oil which are commercial produced – mainly from genetically raised crops using heat and chemicals.

Most nutritionists argue that commercially manufactured oils should not be classified as good sources of fat because their manufacturing process can convert the fatty acid into the hazardous trans fats.

When Healthy Fat Goes Bad

Healthy fats can go bad if light, heat, or oxygen damages them.

– Polyunsaturated oils should be refrigerated
– Discard nuts, oils, or seeds if they taste bitter or smell bad.
– Cooking foods with unsaturated fat at high temperatures can deform the fat.

Olive Oil Fraud

Most of the imported olive oils are mostly a mixture of organic olive oil, low-value refined oils. To make sure you don’t get scammed:

– Settle for Olive oil brands with California Olive Oil Council Logo on the bottle.
– For brands from France: check for AOC logo, from Spain: check for a DO seal, from Italy: check for DOP logo.

Choosing Good Fat Tip: Eat Omega-3s Often

Although all types of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good, omega-s fatty acids have shown to be more beneficial. They can:

– Reduce or prevent symptoms of ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder.
– Lower the risk of developing cancer, stroke, and heart diseases.
– Lower the risk of developing dementia and memory loss.
– Ease joint pain, arthritis, and inflammatory skin disorders.
– Support healthy pregnancy.
– Sharpen your memory, balance your mood, and help you fight fatigue.

Types of Omega-3s

DHA and EPA found in algae and fish have the highest health benefits. ALA is derived from plants and isn’t as potent as DHA and EPA, although the body has limited ability to convert ALA to DHA and EPA.

Good Sources of Omega-3 fatty acid

Although the body can obtain enough omega-6 fatty acids from the diet, you should supplement your consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids to boost your overall health.

1. Fish is the Best Sources of Omega-3:
Herring
Salmon particularly sockeye and wild-caught king
Anchovies
Mackerel
Oysters
Line-caught tuna and pole
Sardines
Lake trout

2. Plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids:

Algae, for example, seaweed are high in DHA and EPA.
Algae and fish oil supplements
Flaxseed
Walnuts
Kale
Brussels sprouts
Spinach
Parsley
Kale

Mercury in fish

Their health benefits aside, almost all sources of seafood have traces of toxins including toxic metals such as mercury. The concentration of these toxins increase with the size of the fish, so avoid donning on swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark.

An adult can safely don on two 6-ounces (12 ounces) of well-cooked seafood per week. For pregnant women, nursing mothers, and kids below 12, select foods low in mercury such as salmon, catfish, tuna, shrimp, and Pollock. Don’t take more than 2 average meal (6 ounces) of albacore tuna in a week (5).

Fish fraud

In a 2013 testing, 33 percent of fish sold in the U.S market were mislabeled (6). Similar scams have been uncovered in nearly all parts of the world. In most of the cases, the fraudulent labels had been put on fish dubbed grouper, cod, wild salmon, and red snapper. Protect yourself by:

– Purchasing whole fish whenever possible.
– Buy from a reputable fishmonger.

If you rarely don on fish, consider omega-3 supplements

Although it’s best to obtain Omega-3s from dietary sources, there are numerous fish oil and omega-3 supplements available.

– Avoid supplements that don’t disclose the sources of the Omega-3s: The best sources are algae, krill oil, or fish oil.
– Settle for Mercury Free Supplements, molecularly distilled and pharmaceutical grade omega-3s: Supplements obtained through molecularly distillation of fish oil are naturally the richest in DHA and EPA and have the lowest levels of contaminants. Settle for supplements that have been independently tested and declared toxin free.
– Consider the quantity of DHA and EPA listed on the label: Although the bottle may read 1,000 mg of fish oil, it’s the amount of omega-3s that matters.

What’s the recommended dosage of omega 3s?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people with documented heart disease get about 1 gram of EPA plus DHA per day. For the rest of us, the AHA recommends eating at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish per week.

– Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are highest in omega-3 fatty acids.
– If you don’t care for fish or you want to be sure to get your daily omega-3s, you may want to take an omega-3 supplement, widely available over the counter.
– Include a variety of ALA-rich oils, nuts, seeds, and vegetables in your diet.

Tips for adding more healthy fats to your diet

Instead of obsessively counting fat grams, aim for a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit, nuts, and beans, with two or more weekly servings of fatty fish, moderate amounts of dairy (reduced-fat), small amounts of red meat, and only occasional fried or processed meals.

This might mean replacing fried chicken with fresh fish, swapping out some of the red meat you eat with other sources of protein such as fish, chicken, or beans, or using olive oil rather than butter. Following a Mediterranean diet can also help ensure you’re getting enough good fats in your diet and limiting the bad ones.

– Try to eliminate trans fats from your diet. Check food labels for trans fats. Limiting commercially-baked goods and fast food can go a long way.
– Limit your intake of saturated fats by replacing some of the red meat you eat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish, and switching from whole milk dairy to lower fat versions. But don’t make the mistake of replacing saturated fat with refined carbohydrates and sugary foods.
– Eat omega-3 fats every day. Include a variety of fish sources as well as plant sources such as walnuts, ground flax seeds, flaxseed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
– Cook with olive oil.Use olive oil for stovetop cooking rather than butter, stick margarine, or lard. For baking, try canola oil.
– Eat more avocados. Try them in sandwiches or salads or make guacamole. Along with being loaded with heart- and brain-healthy fats, they make for a filling meal.
– Reach for the nuts. You can add nuts to vegetable dishes, use them instead of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish, or make your own trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
– Snack on olives. Olives are high in healthy monounsaturated fats and make for a low-calorie snack. Try them plain or make a tapenade for dipping.
– Dress your own salad. Commercial salad dressings are often high in unhealthy fat or added sugars. Create your own healthy dressings with olive, flaxseed, or sesame oils.

Note that no amount of trans fat is considered healthy. Artificial trans fats increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and stroke. Common sources of bad trans-fats include:

– Packaged snacks: microwave popcorn, crackers, candy, and chips.
– Commercially baked foods: crackers, muffins, cookies, pizza dough, pie crusts, hamburger buns, and cookies.
– Solid fats: vegetable shortening, stick margarine
– Fried foods: fried chicken, French fries, breaded fish, chicken nuggets, hard taco shells.
– All foods with partially hydrogenated oils as one of the ingredients.
– Pre-mixed products: chocolate milk, cake mix, pancakes and more.