Diet fads might change on a dime, but there is one thing most of them have in common: stay away from fats! And while it’s true that fat isn’t an essential nutrient (our body is able to make mosts of the fats it needs – and then some) we have to keep in mind that fats are a vital component of the human diet. What matters most is that not all fats are created equal. Here are a few guidelines on the good, the bad and the ugly. Come and cook with us!
Almost every cell in our bodies contains some fat in the form of the cell membrane. Fats are also needed to help absorb vitamins such as A, D, E and K, as well as to maintain healthy skin. The fats we use in food are used primarily as a source of energy, to keep us warm and to protect our organs. They also are an integral part of our immunity and brain development. As we wrote previously, the Mediterranean diet, rich in monounsaturated fats, is linked to low blood pressure and lower incidences of heart disease.
Fats are composed of building blocks called fatty acids (similar to the amino acids in proteins) and they fall into three major categories:
- Saturated fats (consume in moderation and look for animal fats from organic, grass-fed animals): found in butter, whole milk, cream, cheese made from whole milk, fatty meats, un-skinned poultry and coconut oil (probably the healthiest of the lot).
- Monounsaturated fats (good and heart healthy): found in olives, avocados, nuts and oils made from them.
- Polyunsaturated fats (find the right balance) which include omega-6 fats – found in sunflower, safflower, corn and soy oils, as well as in foods made from them – and omega-3 fats – found in oily, cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines and anchovies, as well as in flaxseeds, walnuts and pecans. It’s important to keep in mind that while we need an optimal balance between omega-6 and omega-3 (between 1 to 1 and 4 to 1 in order to protect against chronic inflammation), our Western diets usually are too rich in omega-6 and fall short of omega-3 (with a ratio that is often closer to 15 to 1) so it is wise to make an effort to limit omega-6 and seek out foods high in omega-3.
There is another category of fats called trans fats that we should completely eliminate from our diets. They are produced through hydrogenation, a process that turns liquid vegetable oils into solids such as shortening and many margarines. Trans fats can be found in processed foods such as deep-fried foods, baked goods, fast food, junk food and many pre-packaged foods and appear on the ingredient list as “partially hydrogenated oils”.
When it comes to our diet, finding the right balance is key, both in the types of fats but also in the amounts. Eating too much fat is not conducive to optimum health but eating too little isn’t good either because your body will think you are facing a famine and will start storing it to get you through a period of supposed restriction. The right fats are essential for your body. So when you have a choice – and you pretty much always do – stick to mono- and polyunsaturated fats, limit saturated fats and stay away from trans fats. Come and cook with us!