Fats are one of the three macronutrients that provide us the energy we need for all our body functions. (The other two are carbohydrates and proteins.) It is also used by the body for growth, absorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), maintenance of cell membranes, regulation of hormones and body temperature, among others.

There have always been controversial opinions about fats. Many people still think a fat is a fat, and it is bad for you, but the truth is that there are different types of fats, some of which are actually very healthy.

SATURATED FATS

These are found mainly in animal products and are usually solid at room temperature (butter, beef fat, skin on meats). You should try to avoid fats from this group, as they have shown to increase the risk of heart disease, artery disease and high cholesterol levels.

UNSATURATED FATS

They are found mostly in plant products. The majority of oils fall under this group. Unsaturated fats are divided into mono-unsaturated (olives, olive oil, avocado, peanut oil, canola oil) and poly-unsaturated (fish oil, corn oil, soy oil).

Unsaturated fats are good fats. Regular consumption of them has shown to reduce risks of heart disease and blood cholesterol. If you are a vegetarian or vegan, I recommend taking a supplement of high quality EPA/DHA concentrate (high dose fish oil).

The essential fatty acids that we’ve heard so much about are poly-unsaturated fats: Omega 3 and Omega 6. The term ‘essential’ means that our bodies are not able to make these acids, therefore, we need to get them from our diets. Some sources for Omega 3 are walnuts, flax seeds and fatty fish. Omega 6 sources include seeds and nuts, corn and vegetable oils.

Omega 6 is widely found in our daily food, but we are usually deficient in Omega 3, so pick the fatty fish you like to increase your levels.

TRANS FATS

Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been altered with hydrogen to make them more stable and to increase the shelf life of products. Also, they can be cooked at high temperatures. Trans fats are the most dangerous types of fats, so much so that food products containing them must have them listed on their labels. So be very careful with them when you do your grocery shopping: if it says ‘hydrogenated’, don’t eat it!

The most popular products containing trans fats are margarines, canned soups and fast food, and they increase your bad cholesterol, triglycerides, your chance of obesity and the risk for heart disease.

DAILY FAT INTAKE

Your fat intake should be around 20%-30% of the calories you consume daily. Overconsumption of any kind of fat can lead to disease or obesity (as does overconsumption of many types of food), but we do want to get some good fats into our bodies to keep us energized and balanced.

Always remember: A low fat diet is not necessarily healthy!

By Carolina Martinez, CHC

Carolina Martinez, Certified Health Coach, Institute for Integrative Nutrition,  cmartinez@healthyvalleyonline.com