“Fats” has become a four-letter word in our diet. For more than four decades, dietary fats have been demonized and disparaged. We avoid them, purchase low-fat or fat-free options and even choose synthetic or factory-created fats over real food.
Current science is revealing that fat is not what is hurting our health. In reality, fat is necessary for many key functions in the body. For example, it provides energy, maintains core temperature, makes hormones, absorbs nutrients and has a major role in neurological and brain function.
The war on fat may be over, but the dietary recommendations of the past decades have left many of us confused about which fats to avoid and which to include. Let’s break it down:
These fats are historically referenced as “healthy” fats and are credited for decreasing cardiovascular and cancer risk in addition to providing nutrients. Examples of monounsaturated fats include olives or olive oil, vegetable oils, nuts and avocados. The Mediterranean Diet, rich in olive oil, is associated with reduced risk of early death and weight management. Debate continues on whether olive oil is oxidized at high temperatures; therefore, some recommend limiting use to low heat and using only extra virgin olive oil.
Also referred to as “essential” fats, meaning unlike monounsaturated and saturated fats, the body requires polyunsaturated fats through diet for biological processes. Polyunsaturated fat can be found in nuts, seeds, fish, algae, leafy greens, vegetable oils and krill. Omega three, six and nine are all polyunsaturated fats, however, their roles in the human body are vastly different. Focus your diet on the inclusion of omega 3s (found in fish, algae, leafy greens) since they are anti-inflammatory and heart healthy.
It is important to note that fats are not exclusively saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated. Foods are labeled based on their most dominant form, but often contain a combination of all types of fat.
Also known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, these fats are categorically and entirely unhealthy and linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and even cancer. Found in foods such as baked goods, vegetable shortenings, margarine, snack foods, processed foods and fried fast foods, there is universal agreement these fats should be avoided at all cost.
By definition, these fats are “saturated” with hydrogen atoms and are solids at room temperature. Examples include butter, coconut or palm oil, animal fats and full-fat dairy. Saturated fats have been falsely linked to disease and subsequently feared, however, science is now proving otherwise. They are rich in fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K), can increase good cholesterol, have anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, and provide satiety and flavor to foods. Saturated fats are also heat resistant, meaning fats such as butter and coconut oil are preferred for high-temperature cooking (i.e., grilling, roasting and broiling).
Cooking fats/oils recommended to promote optimal health:
Organic Butter or Ghee
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Flax Seed Oil (Do not heat)
The information provided is for education only and is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor should it be used as a replacement for seeking medical treatment.
Jaime Coffey Martinez, MS RD is a registered clinical and integrative dietitian who practices in the DC area and is owner of Nutrition CPR, LLC (http://www.nutritioncpr.com) a nutrition consulting company providing both one-to-one nutrition coaching and corporate nutrition and wellness programs. Jaime coaches her clients on the importance of choosing real, nutrient dense foods that will nourish the body, optimize health and help clients achieve their personal goals.