If you’re afraid of fats, you’re not alone. A July 2014 Gallop poll found that 56% of Americans actively try to avoid fat in their diet. And while that figure may seem striking — it encompasses over half of the country, after all — the percentage has actually plummeted since 2004. Back then, 64% of Americans said they lived low-fat or no-fat lifestyles.
The change can be explained by new research on the health benefits of fats. First, let’s take a look at the three categories of fats:
1) Unsaturated fats have been labeled the “good” fats. These fats are divided two subcategories, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated. Both can help improve blood cholesterol levels and are beneficial for heart health. The well-known omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both polyunsaturated fats. These cannot be made in the body, so it is imperative that you consume them in your diet. You can get omega-3’s from sources such as flaxseeds and salmon, and omega-6’s from sources such as nuts and seeds.
2) Saturated fat has been said to have negative effects on cholesterol levels and heart disease. New research is disproving this. In addition, the brain is composed of 60% fat, and saturated fat is one of the main components of brain cells. Research on an elderly population showed that the participants who had not consumed saturated fat were more likely to have mild cognitive impairment.
3) Trans fats are mostly industrially produced, and have consistently been associated with coronary heart disease. They are created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oils and fats, which turns them into solid form. Trans fats are used in products in order to keep stable flavors and create a longer shelf life. Before you purchase a product, check the ingredient list and make sure that there is no hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil in it!
So which fats are the best? Here are my top four:
- High in saturated fat, known for medium-chain fatty acid (MCT) content. (Studies have linked MCTs with burning more calories.)
- Antiviral, antibacterial, and immune-boosting effects
- Best for low to medium heat, such as baking or putting it in coffee
- Benefits also include improved digestion, better breath, and a healthy coat for dogs
- High in monounsaturated fat
- Central to Mediterranean diet, which is linked with lower blood pressure
- Use at low to medium heat, such as sautéing
- Also great for homemade salad dressing
- High in monounsaturated fat
- High in beta-sitosterol, which is linked with decreased cholesterol levels and the inhibition of cancer cell growth
- Light buttery flavor
- High heat cooking (frying, searing, broiling, stir-frying)
When picking any of these oils, it’s best to go with the unrefined, cold-pressed and/or extra virgin options.
- Dairy product created by churning cream and removing the liquid
- 66% saturated fat and 30% monounsaturated fat
- Soft spreadable texture
- Substantial amounts of vitamins
- Low heat cooking such as baking
- Also used for browning – adds flavor to a dish like fish or vegetables
Now, this doesn’t mean you should go crazy eating fat! Instead, pursue a diet that is balanced with a variety of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The USDA guidelines recommend 10-35% of your calories from fat, with no more than 10% of calories coming from saturated fat. The rest of these calories should come from unsaturated fats. Avoid all trans fats!
Have you cooked or baked with any of the oils listed above? If so, let us know what you thought!