We’ve all heard that a healthy diet should include “good fats”, but why exactly does your body need them?
Once upon a time, dietary fat was demonised so hard that a new breed of zero-fat foods was developed. But that’s all in the past (if you don’t remember it, ask your Mum what she ate in the 80s).
These days, smart dieters know that fat is an important macronutrient, and that any balanced diet needs healthy, good fats. But which fats are good, which should be avoided, and why do we need fat in our diet at all?
Good vs Bad Fats
Dietary fats fall into two categories: unsaturated, and saturated. Unsaturated fats include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats. These are the good fats, which can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease (when eaten in moderation).
Polyunsaturated fats, including the important omega-3 fatty acids, are thought to have plenty of heart-health benefits, and can help lower your blood cholesterol levels and your triglyceride levels. Omega-3s are found in oily fish, fish oil supplements, flaxseed/linseed, and walnuts. Fish and fish oil contains long-chain omega-3s which are thought to have the most health benefits.
Monounsaturated fats are a good source of Vitamin E (an anti-oxidant) and can be obtained from olives and olive oil, avocados, whole nuts and raw seeds.
Experts agree that there is one type of fat that should be avoided completely if possible, and certainly minimised: trans fatty acids, and saturated fats. This artificial fat is thought to raise cholesterol levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Trans fats are processed, hydrogenated fats (often called “partially hydrogenated oils” on food labels) and – surprise surprise – are usually in fast food, convenience snacks, pastry, and fried food. It’s not rocket science to know which fats are healthy and which are likely to have no nutritional benefit at all!
How Much Fat Should You Eat?
To an extent, your fat intake is up to you – after all, calorie balance is what matters. Some people like a higher fat, lower carb approach whilst other prefer carbs (so need to minimise fats). But we all need some healthy fats in our diet, particularly omega-3s. If you don’t eat oily fish 2-3 times a week, it’s a good idea to take a high quality omega-3 supplement, fish oil supplement, or use an Omega Oil Blend.
Remember that fats are more caloric than carbs and protein. One gram of fat has 9 calories (compared to 4 calories per gram of carbohydrate and protein), so take that into consideration.
The Benefits Of Dietary Fats
Healthy good fats are an important part of any healthy diet whether you are bulking or cutting. Don’t be tempted to take your fats too low, even if you are in a caloric deficit. In fact, that’s when essential healthy fats can be most critical to your health and wellbeing.
Good fats provide essential fatty acids, help deliver fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K), support brain function, help keep our hormones healthy, and are a valuable source of energy.
By far the most important benefit of healthy dietary fats is heart health. Omega 3 fatty acids (like those in fish oil supplements) can reduce triglycerides and inflammation, and raise “good cholesterol” (HDL), and reduce high blood pressure. For such a low-cost, simple daily supplement, that’s a huge list of potentially life-saving benefits.
And healthy fats can reduce cellular inflammation, too. Omega-3 fats appear to help minimise your risk of lifestyle diseases including high insulin levels, high blood pressure, and obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes or heart disease.
The three types of fatty acids in omega-3s (ALA, EPA, DHA) seem to have a positive impact on mental health, mood, and depression according to growing body of research studies.
And some studies suggest that omega-3 fats can be beneficial in managing some auto-immune diseases, as an alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs.
Find Your Favourite Healthy Fat
Omega-3 supplements, Omega Oils, and Fish Oil Capsules are a fantastic source of quality healthy fats (at precise doses, so you don’t have to add any more calories than necessary). But you can enjoy the health benefits of fats in your diet outside of oils and capsules. How about the benefits of coconut products, including Organic Virgin Coconut Oil? Or everybody’s favourite: nut butter! You don’t have to stick with peanut butter; there are plenty of different nut butters, nut/seed blends, and even protein-enhanced nut butter with whey to enjoy!
How do you get your healthy fats?
About the Author:
Nicola Joyce has been writing for (and about) sport, fitness, nutrition and healthy living since 2004. She’s also a keen sportswoman: her background is in endurance sport but she now competes as a natural bodybuilder, most recently winning a world title with the INBF. When she’s not writing content, she can be found blogging. Follow her here www.nicolajoyce.co.uk and on Facebook & Twitter (@thefitwriter) too.