Healthy Fats -Why Do We Need Healthy Fats In Our Diet?

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Healthy fats. Is there such a thing?

Believe it or not fat is healthy, our body needs healthy fats for energy and cellular function.

Why does our bodies need healthy fats?

  • A source of energy – Healthy fats provide our bodies with energy.
  • Energy store – The extra calories that are not used initially are stored for future use in fat cells.
  • Cell walls – Fat is component of cell walls. These cells make up our bodies organs, blood, skin etc.
  • Essential fatty acids – Dietary fats are essential for growth development and cellular function. We must consume foods that have these essential fatty acids as our bodies cannot produce them.
  • Proper functioning of nerves and brain- The myelin sheath which protects our nerve cells is made from fat.
  • Healthy Fats help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K 
  • Synthesize hormones Hormones are needed to regulate many of the bodies function. Healthy fats are  used in hormone production.

For the last few decades, we’ve heard all about the virtues of a low-fat diet and the dangers of dietary fats and cholesterol. Although many of us buy low-fat and low-cholesterol foods, the number of people who are obese continue to climb.

“While saturated fat may not be as harmful as once thought, the evidence clearly shows that unsaturated fat remains the healthiest type of fat.” –Harvard Health

Healthy fats tend to increase your good cholesterol also referred to as HDL cholesterol and decrease your bad cholesterol. 

good fats

Which healthy fats should you eat?

Choose healthy fats found in plant-based oils such as olive oil or peanut oil if you are not allergic to nuts. 

  • Plant based oils tend to contain less cholesterol as compared with animal-based oils.

Choose monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Mono means 1 and poly mean more than on. These healthy fats are easily used by the body for a range of important functions. These types of fats are healthier for you than saturated fats.

  • Unsaturated fats tend to make you feel fuller, they are considered a healthy fat. Healthy fats will decrease the need for snacking in between meals.  Consider limiting saturated fats from animal products, such as butter and lard.
  • “Convincing evidence was found that partial replacement of saturated fat (SFA) with polyunsaturated fat (PUFA) or monounsaturated fat (MUFA) lowers fasting serum/plasma total and LDL cholesterol concentrations. It may also decrease the risk of heart disease, especially in men.

Incorporating healthy fats into your diet

Cook at home using healthy fats found in oils so you can steer clear of artery-clogging trans-fats.  Healthy fats oils like peanut, olive and coconut oil give foods a rich flavor compared with the trans-fats in store-bought cookies, cakes, and other packaged convenience foods.

Choose natural oils, not ‘lite’ or ‘light’ ones. Some people find the taste of olive oil a bit overwhelming. There are different grades of olive oil you can try until you find one that suits your palate. Avoid oils labeled lite or light, however, because those words do not usually refer to the color of the oil, but the fact that is has been blended with another type of oil, one potentially less healthy for you.

Eat Mediterranean.

  • The Mediterranean diet has been shown to be heart healthy due to the proportion of olive oil that is used for everyday meals such as dressing and cooking oils. Olive oil is actually higher in calories than butter but contains little or no cholesterol.

Eat olives. Olives are the origins of olive oil, so you can get all the benefits of the oil plus a tasty snack for only a few calories per portion. Rinse off the salt water they are usually packed in to help with flavor and to preserve texture.

Substitute olive oil for butter in a range of recipes.  Use it as a spread on bread and for cooking and frying. You can even make a frosting out of olive oil. Try a simple glaze of water and powdered sugar with a dash of olive oil for body and texture.

Avoid trans-fats. Trans fats are created by pumping hydrogen molecules into a range of (usually cheap and unhealthy) oils to make them solid and therefore less likely to spoil as the products they are made with sit on store shelves.  Trans fats are damaging to heart health and should be avoided as much as possible.

  • Trans fats have been shown to increase bad LDL and lower good HDL.
  • Trans fats can increase inflammation which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

Add coconut oil to your diet in moderation. Coconut oil is a saturated fat, but studies have shown it is processed by the body differently than animal-based saturated fats.  Coconut oil has been shown to offer a range of healing properties and may improve your digestive health. It is usually solid at room temperature but becomes liquid on warm days. Coconut oil is versatile and can be used in most forms of cooking and baking; however, some people find the taste too strong or overwhelming in subtly seasoned recipes.  If you do not want the strong taste of coconut to be obvious in your dishes, use expeller-pressed or deodorized coconut oil. Use coconut oil can be used in a wide range of tasty recipes.

Use sunflower oil. Sunflower oil has the highest concentration of monounsaturated fats of all the oils available, according to nutrition databases.

Eat avocados.  These tasty fruits contain a range of heart-healthy fats 75% monounsaturated and 25% polyunsaturated. They are versatile and can be used in sandwiches, salads, Mexican and Tex-Mex meals, and more.

  • Consider using guacamole instead of mayonnaise in your sandwiches.  Make your own guacamole by mashing fresh avocado with some fresh tomatoes cut into cubes and a squirt of lemon or lime juice. Use your guacamole as you would mayonnaise, on turkey sandwiches, with your tuna salad, and more.  Be careful of commercially prepared guacamole, however, as it can often contain unhealthy fats. In fact, some actually contain very little avocado. If you must buy it, be sure to read the label to make sure avocado is listed as the first ingredient.

Eat nuts in moderation if you are not allergic. Nuts have healthy fats. Studies have shown that those who eat 1 ounce of nuts each day have an easier time losing weight and keeping it off.  Nuts are not only rich in healthy fats and certain vitamins and enzymes, their fiber makes you feel fuller and aids in digestion.

  • Try walnuts in your oatmeal each morning. Studies have shown that 8 walnuts a day can help lower your cholesterol naturally. A bowl of oatmeal made with quick oats, water and a dash of cinnamon can help lower it even more.
  • Switch to peanut oil.  Peanut oil is a monounsaturated fat, which means it is a simple fat easily digested and used by the body. It increases healthy cholesterol in the body and is great for your skin and your memory.  It works well in Asian-style dishes, peanut oil gives a flavor that is different than olive oil.
  • Eat macadamia nuts. They are delicious, with a rich, creamy taste and rich in monounsaturated fats and fiber. The only downside is they can be costly; look for bargains in your local warehouse club.
  • Explore nut-based oils.  We have already discussed peanut oil, but there are several other nut-based oils high in monounsaturated fats that are worth experimenting with, including hazelnut (also known as filbert), macadamia and almond.

Use soybean oil in moderation. It is polyunsaturated and high in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is versatile enough to be used in a range of recipes, from frying to homemade salad dressings. However, note that some people are allergic to soy. The jury is also still out for some researchers as to how much soy should be eaten every day as part of a healthy diet.

  • Eat more tofu. Soybeans have the highest amount of protein of any member of the bean family, with a low percentage of fat, making it an excellent substitute for meat in your cooking. Try a stir-fry using sesame oil to get the flavor of a Chinese restaurant with none of the hidden dangers found in many prepackaged foods. Some researchers express concern at eating too much soy, especially genetically modified soy.  Look for organic tofu if you are concerned about GMO foods and cook more from scratch if you are worried about soy being added to many prepackaged foods as a thickener and source of protein.

Use less butter

  • Use butter in moderation. Butter offers a range of health benefits, such as helping you feel full for longer and boosting your metabolism. It contains a range of vitamins and nutrients, including Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be good for heart health. Unfortunately, butter also contains cholesterol. You can use butter but do not go overboard.

Add Omega-3 fatty acids to your diet. These healthy fats improve heart health. Sources include salmon and other fatty fish and sunflower, soybean, walnut, and corn oils.

Add Omega-6 fatty acids in moderation. Omega-6 fatty acids are thought to also aid in heart health, though according to recent studies, too much can be a bad thing.

  • Flax seed is an excellent source of both Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. Flax seed has a wonderful nutty taste and texture. Add to cereal or sprinkle on salads.

Dairy products and fat

Hard cheeses such as cheddar have less fat than soft cheeses such as Brie or Bleu cheese. If you are going to eat cheese, practice portion control. One ounce of cheese is about the size of two dice. 

Use low-fat versions of high-fat foods. Some fat is good for us, but there is no need to consume full-fat dairy

items if there are low-fat alternatives. If you are dieting you can look for low-fat cream cheese, sour cream, yogurt and milk to keep down the amount of dietary cholesterol and calories you are consuming. Low-fat dairy such as milk and yogurt usually have higher levels of sugar in them to help flavor the food. It is important to read your labels.

I wrote another article on low-fat foods, I try to avoid them myself.

Add Greek-style yogurt to your diet. Yogurt is good for maintaining digestive health, adding immune system-boosting probiotics through its active cultures. Studies have also shown that eating yogurt can curb cravings and lead to weight loss. Greek-style yogurt has twice the protein as regular yogurt for the same number of calories and will also make you feel fuller for longer.

Meat and fat content

Choose your protein carefully.  A lot of people think they have to give up bacon and other tasty meats because they are high in fat. The truth is they can be enjoyed in moderation if you make sensible choices. Try Canadian or back bacon instead of bacon streaked with fat. You may want to consider a homemade ham steak.

Rather than fatty meats consider lean cuts of meat. Many people avoid beef and pork because they consider them to be too fatty. The truth is that there are a lot of lean cuts of meat you can buy in the supermarket once you know what to look for, such as a minute steak or a pork loin.  One pork loin can make many meals economically smart, from a roast dinner to stir-fry, tacos, and most other meals in which you would use white-meat chicken. Use portion control to make sure you do not overdo it on the protein and fat. A three-ounce portion of meat is roughly the size of a deck of playing cards.

Processed meats

The main danger with processed meats like bacon is all the chemicals, salt and preservatives the food industry puts into them. One other concern is over cooked meats becoming charred, which has been associated with increased risk of prostate cancer in men. If you do choose to eat bacon, cook until crisp but not overdone.  Use a couple of slices on the side of your eggs in the morning, or as the topping for a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich (BLT) loaded with the salad items and a thin smear of mayo or guacamole.

Eat eggs. A lot of people steer clear of eggs due to the cholesterol, but the diet is just one part of the cholesterol picture. We can control our dietary intake of cholesterol to some extent, but skipping eggs can mean we are missing out on all of the protein and valuable nutrients packed into that one small shell, all for only about 70 to 90 calories. Eggs will help you feel full for longer and are highly portable. Boil up a couple so you can have a tasty snack you can take anywhere. Cheese and eggs are the main snacks permitted on a low carb diet because they leave you feeling satisfied for hours after eating, and much less likely to grab sugary foods due to carb cravings.

Chocolate lovers. Dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa solids, such as 70% to 90%, have been shown to contain healthy fats and other disease-fighting nutrients. One ounce a day of high-quality chocolate can satisfy your sweet tooth even as it improves your health. Avoid milk chocolate or white chocolate due to the large amounts of sugar and other added ingredients that dilute the heart-healthy cocoa solids.

If you have been following a low-fat diet but are still overweight or struggling with medical issues, try adding some healthy fats to your diet, in moderation. The suggestions above are easy to follow and can make a difference in the way you look and feel.

What do you think about healthy fats?

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About Sharon T McLaughlin MD FACS 236 Articles
I am a physician who is interested in providing health information and health tips so that we may live healthy lives.

14 Comments

  1. I have never had to think much about my diet, I eat healthily preferring to cook myself, but this year at my annual health check my cholesterol had risen a little. It isn’t anywhere near a danger zone but the nurse said to watch it as it may be a trend and keep rising. So now I take notice of every little thing I eat.

    Enjoy the journey!

  2. Hi,

    So many people need to read this. I know many that think fat is a bad thing. When in fact, our bodies need it. I’m of Italian decent and use olive oil instead of butter lol. Most of what you have written here is exactly what I do. Although my Tofu days are over…I used to binge on it and now got sick of it…..I love everything else. Yes I will have a slice of bacon here and there, but mostly eat vegetable based meals.
    I knew an anorexic gal that wouldn’t eat any kind of fat. She was depressed, had high anxiety, and was freaking out all the time.
    When she finally went to a naturopath because of this behavior he said that she needed some fat in her diet because it was effecting not only her physical appearance but also her brain. I’ll never forget that.
    OK I’ll stop babbling,

    -Donna

  3. Your article reassures me, Sharon, because I seem to be doing it all right:-) Mind you with a tendency to high cholesterol (even when I was really thin), I had to research this. However, I don’t think I found all this information in just one article and had to discount some of the things I read. It’s good to see it coming from such a trustworthy source as you. I couldn’t give up bacon all together so it’s so good to read that, if it’s lean, it’s OK in moderation.

Please comment, I would love to hear what you think about this information.