There is a reason you’ll find oils, and fats in the smallest portion on the nutrition pyramid. But did you know that there is a big difference between the source of fats, and what they will do to your body? It is a part of the food pyramid because while fats and oils are needed in small portions, your body still needs certain fats and oils in order for every cell to function properly. Labels like NO TRANS FAT, and FAT FREE may get you thinking that fat is a hidden danger, but the reality is even though there are artificial fats and fats that can cause health problems there are also fats that are really good for you.
Know Your Fats
Each type of fat contains a mixture of fatty acids. Monounsaturated fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and some fruits and vegetables. Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils, fish and seafood and are liquid or soft at room temperature. These include Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, considered essential because our bodies cannot produce them and they have to be taken in through diet.
What your body reacts badly to are saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature and are found in animal sources, as well as some vegetable oils that also contain saturated fat. Trans fats are liquid vegetable oils, chemically processed to be semisolid at room temperature by adding hydrogen atoms to vegetable oils. These are also referred to as “partially hydrogenated” oils, and are found in processed foods, and fried foods to improve flavor and extend the shelf life of foods.(1)(2) There are naturally occurring trans fats that occur at low levels in animal products but the question is, are they bad for you?
The “Bad” Fats
If you already struggle with cholesterol balance, saturated fats are generally unhealthy for you. Even though monounsaturated and unsaturated fats are “good” for you and can help reduce cholesterol, and maintain healthy cellular structure they are still stored in your body as fat. So if you want to keep your fat intake minimal, stick to the unsaturated fats because the body stores fat so any unused portion stays with you. And while your body needs fats, you still will need to consume them in small portions so you can manage your weight.
A recent study comparing overweight children to peers shows that overweight children are nearly three times more likely to have high blood pressure. Out of 1,111 school-aged children, about 40% were above the 85th percentile on the growth charts for height and weight (the range doctors consider to be overweight). Out of those children, 14% had high blood pressure higher than normal while only 5% of children within the normal range had elevated blood pressure. This study found that overweight kids and obese children with even a slight increase in BMI (body mass index) have strong increases in blood pressure. But the same is true in reverse, a little bit of weight loss can also lower blood pressure greatly.(3)
Since the “bad fats” (partially hydrogenated fats) are found in kids favorites like processed foods and packaged foods with long self-life, the amount of trans fats kids eat may just go unnoticed. Kids tend to have more energy than adults and burn fat off more quickly, so you might not notice their trans fat intake. But it’s probably in most of the foods they ask for, those brightly colored sweet tasty foods and candies they love almost always contain these fats.
The problem with hydrogenated oils and fats is this: since they are chemically altered, they actually have a different chemical structure than natural fats and can pose health problems. Even though trans fats occur naturally the hydrogenated form of fats are required by the US Food and Drug Administration to be listed clearly on nutrition labels because of their potential health threat.(4)
Why You Need Certain Fats
Studies have shown that eating foods that contain high amounts of monounsaturated fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels, and reduce your risk of heart disease. Researchers have also discovered that these fats can benefit insulin levels, and have a positive effect on blood sugar control which can be very helpful to those with type 2 diabetes. Polyunsaturated fats (found in plant-based oils) have also been shown to improve blood cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease, along with your risk of type 2 diabetes. These fats contain essential fatty acids, including omega-3 , omega-6 and omega-9 which have been shown to help decrease the risk of coronary artery disease, help protect against irregular heartbeats, and lower blood pressure levels.(5)
Healthy Fat Foods
Foods that contain healthy fats include cold water fish like salmon, herring and mackerel, olive oil, sesame oil, almond oil, walnut oil, sunflower oil avocado and more. Check out this great Guacamole Recipe from Skinny Ms. to get more of these essential fats into your diet.