Good Fats vs. Bad Fats How Did It Get So Confusing?
A growing body of clinical studies and research findings has created a lingering confusion about dietary fats and their proper place on our dinner plates. Good fats, bad fats, low carb, high carb—it’s beginning to sound like a Dr. Seuss book.
Many of us grew up thinking that foods with fat in them are bad for us. To lose weight, the experts said, we had to reduce our calories and cut out the fat. Many fad diets came and went, but the low-fat/high carb theme remained constant.
All Fats Are Not Created Equal
During the 1960s, the Seven Countries Study—which continues to this day—was the first major study to investigate diet and lifestyle along with other risk factors for cardiovascular disease across the different cultures of the United States, Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Japan.
The landmark study revealed that people in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean region had a lower rate of heart disease despite a high-fat diet. How was that possible? Their primary fat was olive oil, a mono-unsaturated fat, not the saturated animal fat common in others cultures which experienced higher rates of heart disease. This finding was a game-changer, proving that all fats certainly were not the same. As a result, the Mediterranean Diet became popular and is still considered a healthy way to eat today.
This finding was a game-changer, proving that all fats certainly were not the same.
Main Types of Fats
The unhealthiest fat of all, trans-fats (partially hydrogenated fats) are a byproduct of hydrogenation, a process that turns healthy oils into solids and prevents them from becoming rancid. As food makers embraced trans-fats, they began appearing in everything from commercial cookies and pastries to fast-food French fries. Awareness of the dangers of trans-fats have resulted in a strong consumer activism, causing an increasing number of manufacturers to remove trans-fats from their food products.
Saturated fats can be found in red meat, whole milk and other whole-milk dairy foods, cheese, coconut oil, and many commercially prepared baked goods and other foods. The fats are typically solid at room temperature. For a while, most nutrition experts recommend limiting saturated fat to under 10% of calories a day, since excessive amounts of saturated fat can drive up total cholesterol and lead to heart disease. However, recent findings are now coming out showing “no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease”
Good sources of mono-unsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils. Monounsaturated fats can help prevent depression, provide protection from heart disease, and even prevent certain kinds of cancer.
Essential for good health, polyunsaturated fats aren’t produced by our bodies so we must get them from foods. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega 3 fatty acids and Omega 6 fatty acids.
Although both fatty acids are essential for the body to function properly, they have opposite effects when it comes to the inflammatory response and cardiovascular health.
Maximum health benefits come from the right balance of Omega 6’s and Omega 3’s:
- A ratio of 4:1 (omega 6 to omega 3) is ideal for most people.
- A ratio of 1:1 or higher in favor of omega 3s is suggested by anti-aging experts.
The average American currently consumes a ratio of anywhere from 12:1 to 25:1 omega 6 to omega 3 [15, 16]. Too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 are among the causes of many diseases in modern society like diabetes, cancer, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and problems with mood and memory.
Being “fat-smart” will help you lose weight, feel stronger, and protect yourself from susceptibility to chronic diseases.
Sound Advice From Dr. Mercola
Founder of the world’s most popular natural health website, Dr. Mercola recommends that the primary sources for both omega-3 and omega-6 fats should be organic, unrefined oils like olive oil and avocado oil, raw milk and butter, free-range eggs, grass pastured beef, wild caught fish and whole seeds. He also recommends avoiding oils and fats from corn, canola, soy, and margarine.
Fats: The More You Know, the Healthier You’ll Be
Once you understand how different fats affect your health, you can begin to make wiser food choices. Armed with the latest information about healthy ratios of Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids, you can fine-tune your food choices and maximize your health and longevity. Being “fat-smart” will help you lose weight, feel stronger, and protect yourself from susceptibility to chronic diseases.
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