In nutrition, few things have as much debate and confusion around them as fats do. You’ve heard plenty of different opinions about fats, and a lot of them may actually be wrong- which we’ll get to. Is fat good or bad? Should we be avoiding it? This blog will hopefully shed some light on this often misunderstood topic for you. And importantly: these aren’t strict ‘rules’- just simply useful guidelines and tips to clear up the area of healthy fats, so that you can live a happier, healthier life!
So, What Are Fats?
Fats (known scientifically as lipids), are a type of organic molecule. Although often painted with a broad brush as dietary villains, fats are essential to your body, and play a crucial role in plenty of processes. Much more than just an energy source, they’re involved in many things from healthy hormone levels, to cognition, and even controlling inflammation. But not all fats are created equal, as you’ll see. There are four main types, and these are vastly different health-benefits wise..
Type 1: Trans Fats
Trans fats are a type of unsaturated fats you’ve likely heard of, along with their negative notoriety. And this is rightly so- this type of fat is negative all around for your health, from diseases to inflammation. Luckily, trans fats have been banned in Canada for a few years now, so this no longer something to watch out for!
Side note- if you’re a consumer of animal products, small amounts of trans fats do occur in things like meat and dairy.. but you shouldn’t worry- it’s mostly agreed upon that these natural trans fats don’t come with the same negative effects that artificial trans fats do. Extra side note- these aren’t saturated fats- we’ll get to those in a second!
Type 2: Monounsaturated Fats
The next type of fats are monounsaturated fats, which are, as their name suggests, another type of unsaturated fats. These are generally known as heart healthy, which is something that the current science backs up. But the positive impacts on health don’t stop there: these fats can help with blood pressure, with reducing inflammation, and even with healthy blood sugar. And bringing more monounsaturated fats into your diet is not only great for your health, but can also be quite enjoyable! Try a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, almonds as a snack, sliced Avocado, or sprinkling sesame seeds onto your oatmeal to bring more of these into your diet!
Something to be mindful of for not only these recommendations but the entirety of this blog is that fats are energy-dense, so often substitutions make more sense than additions. Just something to consider!
Type 3: Polyunsaturated Fats
The next type of fats are polyunsaturated fats. Within this group, there’s two standouts that you’ve probably heard of before: Omega 3s, and Omega 6s. Both of these are seen as very heart healthy, but the truth may be a little more complicated. At the minute, something that seems to be worth following is the ratio of Omega 3s to Omega 6s in your diet. With the ideal ratio said to be between 1:1 or 1:4 of 3s to 6s, this is likely a good thing to be mindful of. Omega 6s have their own health benefits, but the best approach is including high quality sources of both Omega 3s and Omega 6s, with a focus on 3s. To enhance your Omega 3 intake, great sources are: fatty fish (if you aren’t vegan), flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. Great sources of Omega 6 include: plant oils, nuts, and legumes.
Type 4: Saturated Fats
The final type of fats are saturated fats. Arguably the most controversial diet topic, hopefully today we can give you an unbiased view of them! Although some would argue that the science has became unclear in the last decade, it’s most likely still a sensible idea to not be overly excessive in your saturated fat consumption, and make swaps to other fats for some meals. However, this definitely isn’t to say that you should aim to minimize saturated fats,and try to remove them altogether! Adequate saturated fat intake is still important for a lot of things in the body, like hormone production, bone health, and brain health.
If you’re following a Vegan diet, your saturated fat intake will usually naturally be lower. However, like we mentioned above you do still want some- coconut oil can be a great vegan source if you think your intake may be low.
The temperatures used for various fats and oils can also have a huge impact on their health benefits, which can find out more about in our blog here.
In summary, based on the current science, these are likely some sensible guidelines to stick to:
- Monounsaturated fats are great- make sure to include these in your diet! Think extra virgin olive oil, almonds, avocado, sesame seeds.
- Polyunsaturated fats are great, but Omega 3 to Omega 6 ration is something to be mindful of. This doesn’t mean you should aim to reduce Omega 6s however- instead try to increase your Omega 3s. For Omega 3s: think flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts, and for Omega 6s: plant oils, nuts and legumes.
- Saturated fats are essential, but moderation is likely the best answer here. Coconut oil is a great vegan source.