Your body needs fat to function, which is why consuming the right types of fat in your daily diet is one of the best choices you can make for your health. Your body needs fat for energy, growth and development, and maintaining cell membranes. Fat is also essential for your body to absorb fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamins A, D E, K and carotenoids, from your food.
As described in “The Skinny on Fats”:[i]
“Fats from animal and vegetable sources provide a concentrated source of energy in the diet; they also provide the building blocks for cell membranes and a variety of hormones and hormonelike substances. Fats as part of a meal slow down absorption so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. In addition, they act as carriers for important fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. Dietary fats are needed for the conversion of carotene to vitamin A, for mineral absorption and for a host of other processes.”
Of course, not all fats are good for you. Some, especially the synthetic varieties, like trans fats, or damaged, rancid varieties, like most corn, soy and canola oil, will promote inflammation and other disease processes in your body. This is not the case for natural fats, which will support good health and vitality.
Eat More of These 3 Best Fats
3. Monounsaturated Fats
Monounsaturated fats are wonderful for your heart, and may help lower your total and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, and normalize blood clotting, which can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke.
These healthy fats are also rich in nutrients that help maintain your body’s cells and often are high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that many Americans need more of.[ii]
You can find monounsaturated fats in olives and olive oil, avocados, peanut butter, nuts and seeds.
2. Saturated Fats
This might come as a surprise, but increasing research is showing that saturated fats, the type found in animal foods like butter, full-fat dairy, meat and eggs, as well as coconut oil, is necessary for your body … and quite healthy when consumed in moderation.
For instance, a study from the Netherlands found that eating saturated fats is not associated with heart disease. Rather, they found that cutting saturated fats from your diet and replacing them with carbohydrates actually increases heart disease risk![iii]
Another study found that supplementing your diet with coconut oil (rich in saturated fat) helps to reduce abdominal obesity.[iv] As reported by Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A. Price Foundation:
“Contrary to the accepted view, which is not scientifically based, saturated fats do not clog arteries or cause heart disease. In fact, the preferred food for the heart is saturated fat; and saturated fats lower a substance called Lp(a), which is a very accurate marker for proneness to heart disease.
Saturated fats play many important roles in the body chemistry. They strengthen the immune system and are involved in inter-cellular communication, which means they protect us against cancer. They help the receptors on our cell membranes work properly, including receptors for insulin, thereby protecting us against diabetes. The lungs cannot function without saturated fats, which is why children given butter and full-fat milk have much less asthma than children given reduced-fat milk and margarine. Saturated fats are also involved in kidney function and hormone production.
Saturated fats are required for the nervous system to function properly, and over half the fat in the brain is saturated. Saturated fats also help suppress inflammation. Finally, saturated animal fats carry the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D and K2, which we we need in large amounts to be healthy.”
This should come as welcome news for most people … it means you can safely add butter to your vegetables, coconut oil to your smoothies and baked goods, and indulge in the ultra-satisfying full-fat cheese (no more low- or no-fat) and still be healthy.
1. Omega-3 Fats
These are the healthy fats found in seafood, like salmon, and fish oil. Low intake of omega-3 fats is linked to up to 96,000 premature deaths a year![v] They’re powerful anti-inflammatories and have been shown to help prevent and treat heart disease.
They’ve also shown promise against autoimmune diseases (lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis)[vi] and are essential for skin and brain health.
People who eat greater amounts of omega-3 fats have a greater overall brain volume, and a greater volume in the hippocampus, which is a region associated with learning and memory.[vii] It’s thought that these healthy fats help prevent brain shrinkage and, when consumed in generous amounts, may give you the equivalent of two extra years of brain health.[viii]
A growing body of research also suggests that including these healthy fats in your diet is crucial for improving mood and relieving mood disorders, as they are a basic building block of your brain, essential for healthy brain signaling and more. People who have lower levels of omega-3 fats in their blood are more likely to report symptoms of mild to moderate depression, as well as have a more negative outlook.[ix]
Part of the benefit to consuming more omega-3s is that it will also improve your body’s ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats. Most people consume too much omega-6 (found primarily in vegetable oils) and too little omega-3, leading to a potentially dangerous balance. Donald B. Jump, Ph.D, professor of nutrition and exercise sciences at the Linus Pauling Institute explained:[x]
“Western diets contain too much saturated and omega-6 PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] and too little omega-3 PUFA. The balance between omega-6 and omega-3 PUFA is important in the context of the production of pro- versus anti-inflammatory lipids.
Chronic diseases like atherosclerosis and diabetic retinopathy are inflammatory diseases of the vasculature. Omega-6 PUFA are pro-inflammatory, while omega-3 PUFA–particularly EPA and DHA–are anti-inflammatory. Therefore, the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 lipids is an important determinant in the progression of chronic inflammatory diseases.
Unfortunately, humans do not efficiently convert the common plant-derived omega-3 PUFA, alpha-linolenic acid, to EPA and DHA. The American Heart Association recommends increasing omega-3 PUFA intake by consuming fish like salmon and tuna, which are good sources of EPA and DHA.”
You can find omega-3 fats in oily seafood (make sure it’s wild-caught and not from a polluted source) or take them in purified supplement form.
Next Up, See… The 2 WORST Fats for Your Health
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[ix] Study presented at the 64th Annual Scientific Meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, Denver, CO, March 3, 2006