Understanding the essential role that fat plays in our overall health is important, as we do our best to wade through confusing and sometimes contradictory information out there. Most of the nutritional labels for the foods and supplements we buy tend to tell only half of the story about the fats used in their products, unless it serves some marketing purpose.
Reduced fat, low fat, and zero fat have become so mainstream in the ads and labels used by these manufacturers that we have become conditioned into believing that low fat is good and high fat is bad. These misconceptions might be good for boosting sales, but they are oftentimes misleading and don’t always tell the whole story.
Fortunately, understanding the different kinds of fat is not all that complicated. In this article we are going to look at the role that good fats and bad fats have when it comes to our health and fitness levels. We’ll also discuss several ways to avoid the bad fats and how to choose the good fats, so that we can make informed decisions with the foods we eat.
Fats, Calories, And Weight Loss… Oh My!
Most people will tell you that fatty foods are the ones to be avoided if you don’t want to gain weight. However, the truth is that increased calories are what cause us to gain weight, not the total number of fat grams. If the calories you burn are greater then the calories you consume… you’ll lose weight. Even though the calories we get from fat do play an important role in our overall health, low-fat food choices, unless they are low in calories, have no significant impact in dropping pounds or shedding fat from our bodies.
Why is this important? Because we have to break away from the mindset that fatty foods will make us fat. Again, it’s not the fat in those fatty foods… it’s the calories in those foods. Making this distinction will allow you to make better dietary decisions and see past the slick labeling.
Saturated Fats = Bad Fats
All dietary sources of fat can essentially be placed into two main categories: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats that are high in saturated fatty acids (some are higher than others) are responsible for most of the health problems associated with a high-fat diet. It’s this type of fat that causes an increase in our bad cholesterol levels, clogged arteries and the narrowing of blood vessels. Of course, over time this increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Saturated fats are found in both natural and processed food sources. Fatty red meats, dairy, fried foods, poultry skin, pork, animal fats, some baked or processed carbohydrates, and lard all contain saturated fats with cholesterol. Coconut oil, palm kernel oils, and palm oils are all examples of saturated fats found in plant sources. However, these sources do not contain cholesterol.
Unsaturated Fats = Good Fats
Unsaturated fats are considered the good fats, and are important in keeping our good cholesterol levels high and our bad cholesterol (LDL) levels low. These essential fatty acids are not only crucial to the normal functioning of the various systems within our body, but they are equally important in the prevention of disease and health problems as well.
Good fats contribute to our body’s ability to produce and hold onto good cholesterol in our bloodstream. Good cholesterol, or HDL, is vital in thinning out and removing the arterial clogging LDL as it forms. In fact, medical experts agree that low levels of HDL are actually more dangerous than high levels of the bad cholesterol (LDL). Other studies show that by eating foods high in unsaturated fats, especially in the omega 3 and omega 6 food groups, we can reduce health problems associated with depression, joint pain, ADHD, skin disorders, and arterial plaque build up.
Scientists believe these fats create a reduction in inflammation at the cellular level within our bloodstream, to counter the “sludge-like” build up from the accumulation of bad cholesterol. Excellent sources of good fats can be found in seafood, nuts, olives, avocados, canola, seeds, and flax oil. By focusing on these food groups, it’s not very difficult to consume recommended levels of the omega oils and other unsaturated fats… but there are some potential problems to consider.
High Calories And Mercury
The most obvious of these would be the calories consumed when eating nuts, avocados, or oils rich in the good fats. Let’s not forget that calories have to be factored into this as well, and despite being rich in the heart-healthy fats we know and love, a balanced approach is important when calories are a concern.
The other problem with natural dietary omegas is mercury. Seafood, especially some of the cold water varieties like cod and salmon, are excellent sources of the good fats we need in our diet. Unfortunately, consuming these species and other omega-rich seafood increases your risk of exposure to mercury. Mercury begins its absorption at the algae level and is then absorbed by the fish that eat the algae.
Once consumed, mercury cannot be excreted which leads to increased absorption levels as the fish ages and grows. For this reason, the highest levels of mercury are found in the larger, more predatory species such as mackerel, sword fish and shark. The good news in this is that salmon, catfish, shrimp, and tilapia tend to have lower levels.
Healthy Fats Through Diet And Supplementation Are The Answer
The more you look at the amazing benefits of a diet rich in healthy oils and fats, the more important it becomes to seek out the best sources – both naturally, and with supplements. For most people, there’s nothing wrong with taking in some saturated fats in their diet. Just be sure to balance your consumption with a higher ratio of good fats. After all, we have to enjoy life, don’t we?
An easy way to keep our healthy fats high is to use supplements combined with natural food sources. By adding a quality Omega Oil supplement to our daily diet, we avoid the problems of taking in too many calories or subjecting ourselves to the possibility of high mercury levels in our seafood. The lessons from these medical studies are simple: reduce our intake of those artery clogging saturated fats, increase our consumption of the foods that are high in unsaturated fats, and combine this with a daily omega-rich supplement from a reputable manufacturer.