Choosing Healthy Dietary Fats
Fat = bad. That’s the common wisdom in our obesity-stricken times. So how do those Inuits stay so fit even while they eat whale blubber all day? The real issue may not be how much fat you consume; instead, it may be how much of what kind of fat you consume.
More often than not, all types of fat are conflated into a monolithic evil that plagues our diets, our waistlines, and our society.
While the over-consumption of certain types of fat poses a serious threat to our public health, the reality is that fat is also an essential part of the human diet. The body needs fat to produce energy, absorb vitamins, and manufacture new cells; without it, the body can’t function properly.
However, too much saturated fat and cholesterol can quickly put your health at risk, leading to harmful conditions like heart disease and stroke. So how are we to reconcile the dangers and the benefits of this necessary (and delicious) evil? The key lies in the kinds of fat we consume.
Goldilocks and the 3 Types of Fat: Bad Fat, Better Fat, Best Fat
There are 3 types of fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Before we go any further, it should be said that all fats are made up of a mixture of these 3 types of fat. What makes them better or worse is the proportion of each.
- Saturated Fat is, as you’ve probably heard, by and large the guilty party in the obesity epidemic. That’s the stuff in steak, ice cream, and cheese. The good stuff, basically–which is why it’s become such a problem.
- Polyunsaturated Fat is the primary component in corn, soy and sunflower oil. Polyunsaturated fats can actually reduce your total cholesterol, making them the good guys in this fight.
- Monounsaturated Fat (like canola and olive oil) is relatively neutral in that regard, making it a blubbery Switzerland. However, if you’re replacing saturated fats with “monos,” the overall effect is a reduction in cholesterol.
Eating Healthy Without Giving Up Fat
Of course, taste matters. Most people are pretty attached to their diets–and especially their indulgences. You don’t have to give up all that you enjoy in this world to be healthier. The general idea is simply to reduce your intake of saturated fat and increase your intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. So, put down that brick of cheese, use canola oil instead, and eat more oily fish (which contain Omega-3 fatty acids, the best fat money can buy)!
[photocredit: 1up; Winforum Nutrition Blog]