May of us have spend our adult lives looking at the caloric and fat content of food, believing that the fat amount would tell us just how bad or good something was for us. But now, there's a lot of talk about the differences between “good” and “bad” fats, and how those affect the body. So we're all left wondering...
Are fats actually good or bad for you?
First of all, your body needs fat. It’s a source for energy. Fat is also needed to properly absorb nutrients, build cell membrane, ensure proper muscle development, and regulate inflammation. There are however different kinds of fats, and some are better for you than other. And some should be avoided at all costs.
Essentially, there are 4 Kinds of Fat.
The Bad, The Ugly
1. Trans fats
These are bad for you! Don’t eat them! They are industrially made from healthy fats but altered in order to keep them from going rancid. The process of altering them is called hydrogenation, and if it grosses you out, it should. The created trans fats have no nutritional benefits but do increase inflammation, bad cholesterol, and chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Trans fats have actually been banned in the United States, and have now been replaced by “partially hydrogenated fats”. The jury is technically still out on whether those are bad for you, but in my book, if something goes through an industrial process of more than two syllables, it’s probably not worth putting into your body.
2. Saturated fats
Saturated fats are not as terrible as trans fats, but should be consumed in moderation. Overconsumption can lead to an increase in cholesterol levels, and there have been studies linking high consumption of saturated fats to heart disease. That latest study has been revisited in recent years, and now the consensus is that some saturated fats may not play as big a part in heart disease as previously thought, but it's still a good idea to consume them sparingly.
Saturated fats include coconut oil, whole milk dairy products, and red meats. In the health community, coconut oil is a more preferred source of saturated fat than, say red meat. The reason for this is that coconut oil has many beneficial properties such as being an antifungal and antibacterial agent. Other sources, such as whole milk dairy, may not be as good because it can contain antibiotics and hormones - unless you’re milking the cow yourself and know where the milk comes from.
Now for the Good Fat!
3. Monounsaturated fats
These fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, and sunflower oils may lower your chances of heart disease, help develop and maintain your cells, and provide essential vitamin E (good for immune system and healthy vision.)
4. Polyunsaturated fats
These are better known by the names of Omega 3 and 6. Your body needs them to function properly and the only way to get this them is from your diet. If you want to build cell membranes around your nerves, be able to clot your blood and move your muscles, you should have Omega 3 and 6 in your diet.
Good sources of Omega 3 and 6 are salmon, flaxseeds, soybean oil, and sardines, to name a few. Omega 3 helps prevent heart disease and stroke, reduce heart pressure, aids in proper brain function, and in some studies have even helped with hyperactivity in kids with ADHD!
Not all fats are created equal. Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3,6) and Monounsaturated fats are good for you and are part of a healthy diet. Saturated fats should be consumed in moderation, and some (coconut oil) are better than others (whole milk dairy). Trans fats should be avoided at all costs!
With that said, if you want to eat that red meat burger with American cheese on it, go for it. Just follow it up with some good olive oil on your side salad, plenty of water, and a brisk walk.