Fat 101: Fat Can Be Your Friend

June 16, 2016

Fat is an essential part of our daily diet. We need fat to survive. It helps protect our organs, give us cushioning on our rear-end, keeps our bodies warm, and also, provides energy (all body cells contain some fat). When you see a food like an avocado, don't say, "I can't eat that because it has fat." First, you hurt the avocados feelings and second, the avocado is just trying to make your diet healthier. Fat is a source of essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E, and K. They help enhance food flavor and texture, and help give us a sense of fullness and satiety in between meals. However, there are good fats and bad fats. An avocado agrees. Essential fatty acids of omega-3 fat (ALA, DHA, EPA) cannot be made in the body and we must consume them in our diet. Healthy fats such as omega-3 fats are unsaturated fats that lower blood cholesterol levels. DHA and EPA are important sources of omega-3 that support the function of vital organs. Omega-3’s in fish such as salmon, mackerel, sea bass and many other fish helps to reduce inflammation, protects the heart from heart disease, and also can help in regards to brain memory and function. It is common for athletes to consume fatty fish/oil or algae oil to reduce the onset of muscle soreness and within the joints. Additional sources of omega-3s are oysters, flaxseed, walnuts, soybeans, eggs, Brussels Sprouts, and spinach. Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and Polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) are heart healthy fats that are an important part of your daily diet. Foods containing these fats are olive oils, olives, avocado, nuts, seeds, legumes, and dark chocolate (be mindful of your portions!). Salad dressing contains healthy oils; however, steer clear of creamy dressings and surprisingly fat-free dressing. When using a salad dressing with healthy oils, it helps absorb the nutrients of your salad. Solution? Opt for a light balsamic dressing the next time you nosh on some greens. Saturated fats are found in animal origins, but palm oil and coconut oil are also included (coconut oil also can have MUFA properties). Foods such as lard, meat, cream, whole milk, cheese, butter, and eggs are examples of foods with saturated fats. If you ever eat a chicken tender and see a slimy clear coating in-between pieces when you pull it apart, that’s saturated fat. Saturated fats are fats that should be limited in the diet. They lead to higher levels of cholesterol which lead to heart disease and stroke. While our bodies make cholesterol, we do not need additional amounts from food sources. The avocado wants you to eat more of him and less of the saturated fat foods. Omega-6 fatty acids are another essential fat. They mostly come from PUFAs. Omega-6 help stimulate skin and hair growth, maintain bone health, regulate metabolism, and maintain the reproductive system. Foods rich in omega-6 are vegetable oils and nuts and seeds. However, while omega-6 is important, too much can cause inflammation which is the opposite as omega-3s. Having a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 is key. Other foods high in omega-6? Pork products, fast food, foods high in saturated fats, cakes, cookies, etc. So it is important to consume the healthier omega-6 foods like nuts and seeds or vegetable oils and leave out the others mentioned. When consuming fat in the diet, stick to healthy fats and try to incorporate them into meals and snacks. For example, when cooking vegetables, roast them with heart-healthy olive oil. When making pasta, use olive oil to make a pesto sauce. If marinating chicken, use a light salad dressing with sunflower, olive, or other oils. If you are trying to make a healthy snack, add almond or nut butters to a slice of 100% whole-wheat toast or an apple, make a trail mix using mixed nuts, eat a slice of salmon jerky, or snack on some olives with carrots or crackers. The avocado suggests making homemade guacamole to put on whole-grain toast, dip with veggies, or slice avocado on a salad. When consuming animal fats, stick to low-fat versions. Chicken breast and white meat (avoid the darker part of chicken meat), lean ham/pork, lean roast beef, lean 99% or 98% beef, white turkey meat, are better meat choices. With cheese, select low-fat cheese or mozzarella as well as low-fat yogurts and ice creams. The lower fat foods will help reduce the amount of saturated fat and cholesterol within your diet so you may have a healthy, stronger heart.