Good fats vs. bad fats
Yup, that’s right! There is a such a thing as good fats. Now, I use the word “good” loosely. We try not to use the words “good” or “bad” to characterize food because, in reality, it’s impossible to stick something we eat into one of two buckets. Instead, we look at food as a spectrum from more nutritious to less nutritious and try to make mostly nutritious choices. However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll refer to fats as “good” or “bad”.
The truth is that we NEED fats. Fats actually do a lot of good stuff in our bodies. For example:
- Energy Use – in fact, fats are 4 TIMES more energy dense than carbs, which is our typical source of energy
- Energy Storage – when we have excess energy, our bodies store it as fat to use if we’re running low on energy
- Nutrient Absorption – some nutrients are fat soluble, meaning they are absorbed best with fats (that’s why olive oil, cheese, or other sources of good fats go great with a salad)
- Nerve Communication – our nerves are made of fats, including our brains…which are kinda important, right?
- Cell Membranes – our cell membranes, which regulate fluids and other nutrients traveling in and out of our cells, are also made of fats
- Hormones – estrogen, testosterone, and other hormones are all made with fats
See what I mean? All of those things are essential to our day to day functioning.
Ok, so why all the hate then? Why do people avoid fats like the plague?
Well, there are some highly processed fats out there that are not good for us. In fact, they’re associated with a lot of diseases and health issues. These are called “trans fats”. Trans fats are man made fats. Why would man make fats, you ask? Mostly, to improve the shelf life of products. The longer they can keep something on the shelf without it going bad, the cheaper it is to ship and store and for you to buy it. Really, like most things in the business world, it comes down to $$$$.
But it’s not just the trans fats, since many people are aware of those. Even more than that, like I mentioned above, fats are very calorie dense (or energy dense, same thing). Remember above how I said “fats are 4 times as energy dense than carbs”? Well, that’s true and can be a good thing. In fact, that’s the guiding principle of the ketogenic diet. BUT, because they’re so energy dense, overeating them can become a problem very quickly, even if they’re good fats.
Basically, weight gain or loss comes down to this:
Calories Consumed vs. Calories Burned
Eat the same as you burn in a day, you’ll maintain your weight. Eat more than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Eat less than you burn, you’ll lose weight. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s a great way to simplify things.
So, if we eat too much fat, it’s really easy to gain weight. Fats are necessary, but we need to eat them mindfully and within moderation.
What are some examples of good fats?
Good question! Mostly, it’s unsaturated fats: polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fats. Saturated fats are important too, but they have some health risks associated with them when we eat them to excess (think red meat).
The unsaturated fats are in things like:
- Nuts and seeds (flax, walnuts, sunflower, almonds)
- Oils (olive oil, canola oil)
- Fish oil supplements
Fish oil supplements in particular have gotten a lot of attention recently for their ability to reduce inflammation, which has important health implications for preventing heart disease and even cancer. For those who lack the inclination to eat the amount of fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc.) required to get the essential fats needed to provide health benefits, omega-3 supplements can be very helpful.
Side note: omega-3 fats are considered anti-inflammatory. Omega-6 fats are inflammatory. Both are important, as we need inflammation to help protect and heal our bodies. However, we want to try to keep our ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats in balance in our bodies.
There are three types of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA (found in fatty fish) and ALA (found in vegetable oils and walnuts). While they all contribute to good health, EPA and DHA likely confer the most benefit. If you have heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends that you talk to your physician about taking one gram of EPA and DHA daily.
If you’re looking for a high quality omega-3 supplement (with fish and seed oils), we recommend our Gaspar’s Best Omega Max.
Summary and recommendations
Don’t be afraid to get some fats in your diet! Particularly, check the label for polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. A diet comprised of mostly whole foods will help you get all of the nutrients you need. Just remember that fats are very calorie dense, so keep these good fats in your diet in moderation.
If you need help incorporating healthy fats into your diet, check out our online wellness program. No more dieting. No more starving yourself. No more confusion. Join our upcoming group to start your journey today.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Certified Coach and Founder