Unless you have been living in an underground bunker for the last 10 years, stock piling tins of green peas and hoarding every last enquirer magazine you can get your hands on in preparation of the return of the evil aliens in 2012, or simply because you couldn’t bare the thought of watching another Paris Hilton my new BFF MTV reality show, you have probably heard that eating fat isn’t as bad as we were first initially told.
Yes, after all these years of inaccurate research and propaganda convincing us to eliminate fats in our diets, leaving everyone to commit carb-o-cide, sending our insulin levels popping higher than an over-heated Jeremy Piven thermometer, and our waist lines consequently wider than the gap between Madonna’s two front teeth, researchers and health experts have finally put two and two together and come back to fat. Yes that’s right, recent research shows that not only should we not be avoiding fat, we should be actively consuming it to help us lose weight and increase muscle size and strength.
You see dietary fat plays an important role in our bodies, from regulating body temperature and a healthy immune system, to energy storage and maintaining healthy cell function. In fact did you know that two thirds of our brain is made up of fat? And certain vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K are fat soluble, meaning that a presence of fat is needed for them to be absorbed by your body.
But before you go rummaging through your freezer looking for the Rediwhip or running down to KFC to wrap your greasy mitts around a family sized bucket of fried chicken, you need to know that not all fats are the same. Just like the characters from your favorite 3pm soap opera that you deny having DVR’d and are secretly itching to get home to catch up on, there are the good, there are the bad, and you need to know which ones are which so they aren’t coming out of a 10 year coma to stab you in the back.
There are 4 types of fat that you need to know about.
Are fats that are solid at room temperatures and mainly come from animal products such as meat and dairy, but can also be found in some plant and vegetable based products like Coconut Oil and Palm Oil.
Usually liquid at room temperature and are known as either Omega 3’s or Omega 6’s. Omega 3’s can be found mainly in fatty fishes like salmon and some plant based sources like walnuts, and Omega 6’s mainly come from vegetables and other nuts and seeds.
Mainly come from vegetables and nuts. A good example of monounsaturated fat is Olive oil.
Whilst the above three are naturally occurring fats, Trans fats, otherwise known as Partially hydrogenated oils, generally are not and are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid. Companies such as fast food outlets, restaurants and bakeries create and use trans fats because they are cheap, make your food extra tasty, and last longer than other fats making them ideal to be used over and over again in those heart attack machines known as deep fryers.
So which fats are good and which are bad?
Trans fats and most saturated fats are the bad guys here, but trans fats are by far the worse. There have been numerous risks associated with the consumption of trans fats, leading them to be banned in various countries, some states here in the US and in certain food items such as baked goods. They are known to raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels whilst decreasing your good cholesterol (HDL), causing an abundance of heath risks such as cardiovascular disease and stroke. Not only that but remember how I told you that our brains are two thirds fat? Well the consumption of trans fats disrupt the communication signals in your brain, increasing cellular degeneration and mental performance. So munching that cookie at lunch may not be the best idea and could lead to a complete brain fart as you try to explain your team’s budget performance in that afternoon meeting.
What foods contain trans fats? Anything that is fried such as french fries (including those sweet potato fries you believe are good for you) and doughnuts, many baked goods such as pastries, croissants, and cookies, as well as margarines and whipped creams, even those fat free varieties. Wait, fat free foods can contain trans fats? How is that possible? Well you see, according to the FDA, if a product contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, they can declare it as having no trans fat. But more often than not, we eat more than one serving in one sitting. So when you are eating tablespoon after tablespoon of that "Fat Free" whipped cream or cookie, thinking you are being healthy, you could be consuming up to 4 grams of trans fats without even knowing it. Sucks doesn’t it.
How can you avoid these products? Look at the ingredient list on the nutrition label. If you see the words "partially hydrogenated oils" or "hydrogenated oils" or "shortening" then throw that product back onto the shelf faster than Michael Lohan can yell "Press Conference".
Saturated fats however are a little more controversial. You see there is one side of the debate that believes that saturated fats aren’t digested and processed by the body very well, leading to increased fat storage and higher cholesterol levels and blood pressure. The other side, including many muscle building and diet experts and gurus, believe that some saturated fat, rather than carbohydrates, can increase muscle size, increase testosterone levels in men, and decrease fat storage. What do I believe? Well I sort of sit somewhere in the middle. You see the thought of sitting in a restaurant chewing on bits of fat from a steak are enough to make me dry heave and pull all my eyelashes out, but the occasional lean piece steak such as fillet, which contains small amounts of saturated fat, I believe can be beneficial. I also believe that natural plant / vegetable based saturated fats, such as those found in coconut oil have benefits in small quantities. I think its a matter of personal preference and if you tend to eat a lot of fatty red meats and full fat milks and cheeses, remove them from your diet for a period of time and see how your body responds.
Now for the good guys. Monounsaturated fats are believed to reduce our bad cholesterol levels, control diabetes and regulate blood pressure, whilst polyunsaturated fats mainly reduce inflammation and tumor growth, maintain a healthy immune system and prevent heart attacks.
Good fats also slow down the emptying of the stomach after eating a meal, leaving you feeling fuller longer and less likely to dig your hands into that cookie jar half an hour after eating. Studies have also shown that consumption of both types can benefit fat loss and muscle building efforts, so get munching on those walnuts, grill up some salmon, spread some avocado on your sandwiches (great healthy substitute for mayonnaise) and get cooking with some olive oil.
So it’s important that we begin to look at fat differently. Don’t just assume that just because a product is fat free makes it good for you or doesn’t contain nasty trans fats, and make a healthy lifestyle change by implementing good fats into your meal plans and cooking, or supplement your diet with an Omega 3 Fish Oil Supplement. Your body, and your waistline, will thank you for it.