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5 Things to Know about Fats

This is the third of our three part series on macronutrients. Fats may be the most confusing of all the macronutrients. In the past you might have been on a low fat diet, or a high fat low carb diet. So which is the right answer. This article explains just a few of the most important things to know about fats.

 

olive oil 1596639 1920The main categories of fats are saturated and unsaturated fats

Just in case you don’t already know, I’ll briefly explain about the different types of fats. The two main categories of fats are saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature. Saturated fats are found in meat, coconut oil, palm kernel oil and dairy products like cheese. Unsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, nuts and fish. It was once believed that all saturated fats are bad for you because they raise bad cholesterol levels. A healthy diet can include a balanced amount of both.

 

Eating fats does not make you fat

A few years back low fat diets were popular. You probably heard that a gram of fat contains more than twice the calories than a gram of carbohydrates or protein. That is true, but unfortunately what wasn’t considered was that in many low fat foods the fat was replaced with sugar and the calorie content was the same or higher. The low fat food was usually less satisfying than the full fat version. Eating too much of anything is generally not good for you, but a small amount of fat (about the size of your thumb for women) at every meal is healthy.

Trans fats should be minimized in your diet

Usually trans fats are made by taking an unsaturated fat and hydrogenating it so it becomes solid at room temperature. People often prefer the texture and they also keep better than unsaturated fats. I don’t like to use the word avoid when it comes to food, but this is one case where you want to minimize what you consume. Unfortunately trans fats are linked with increased cancer and heart disease risk. Limiting processed foods helps us to limit our intake of trans fats.

We need fats in our diets

Fats are required in our diets for many vitamins to be absorbed. Vitamins A and D need fat in your diet to be absorbed. Omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids are both essential for humans. Both of these are found in unsaturated fats. Some seafood or fish oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids. Oils like sunflower oil are rich in omega 6 fatty acids. It is generally believed that we consume far too much omega 6 fatty acids relative to omega 3. This is another reason to limit processed foods which can be high in omega 6 fatty acids. Fats are also necessary to keep our hormones in balance and are needed by our brain and nervous system.

Should you eat coconut oil or olive oil?

My opinion is both have a place. Olive oil (an unsaturated fat) is useful in salads or foods fried at low temperatures. Coconut oil (a saturated fat) can be used at higher temperatures. Virgin coconut oil adds a coconut flavour, so it can be tasty in muffins or a thai curry. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat other fats or oils. Just remember to balance the unsaturated with the saturated and keep the omega 3 in balance with the omega 6.

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