Gone are the days when any notion of fat in the diet was considered unhealthy. Since the advent of the modern obesity epidemic (circa 1970) anything containing any sort of fat was deemed ‘fattening’.
Research and advanced approaches to health and nutrition have uncovered the true complexity of fat in the human diet.
Over the decades, nutritional science and the understanding of the human body have led to breakthroughs in the way we approach dietary fat.
Fat is an essential part of our life. You need it whether you want to accept it or not.
For a long time it was thought that fat should be excluded from nutrition as much as possible for a healthy life.
This idea has recently been reversed, but unfortunately, in some cases, the inversion has led to extreme revolt against the previously held misconception.
Some fans of the ‘low carb’ diet phenomenon have succumbed to the ‘fat mania’ and live according to the motto ‘the more fat, the better’. But it is not that clear cut.
The truth is that fat, like most other things we eat, must be consumed in moderation.
Too much or too little is unhealthy. Nothing is good under extreme circumstances.
For example, when it comes to body weight, the principle of calories in vs calories out applies.
So no matter how good a specific macro nutrient is for you, if you consume too much, the effects will be negative.
You also have to keep an eye on the type of fat you consume.
As mentioned above, fat is a complex group of different nutrients, each with its own specific properties, values and functions.
In the past, when eating fat lead to any sort of health problems, saturated fat was to blame.
When it came to fats that did not negatively affect health, unsaturated fat was often praised.
It is now coming to light, that there is an even deeper layer of understanding behind the facts of fat.
Saturated Fatty Acids vs Unsaturated Fatty Acids
Saturated fat is found mainly in animal sources, although it can also come from plant sources such as coconut and palm.
Saturated fat is usually solid at room temperature under normal atmospheric conditions but depending on what fat it is and how the climate is at that time, the consistency may change.
It is believed to be a major contributor to the formation of fat and visceral body fat as well as a major cause of cardiovascular disease, obesity and hypertension.
For this reason, the consumption of saturated fats, especially from animal sources including meat and dairy products, should be limited.
The key word being limited and not totally avoided.
This is because while in the excess common in a modern western diet saturated fat is bad, it is not so bad, and may actually be good in healthy moderate amounts.
This is especially true in plant derived saturated fats like coconut and palm.
These types of saturated fat contain a group of fats called medium chain triglycerides or MCT for short.
This wonderful metabolic fuel has been shown to boost brain and physical performance.
It is a sweeping wave in health food discourse as research reveals more and more awesome properties.
Unsaturated fat is found in fish and plant sources.
It is most common in nuts and seeds, but also in the flesh of certain fruits such as avocados.
It has a very low melting point, so it usually appears in liquid form, even when refrigerated.
Unsaturated fat, especially polyunsaturated fat, is often associated with significant health benefits.
Many of these directly counteract the harmful effects of excess saturated fats.
This is the case, for example, with omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are commonly referred to as “good for the heart”.
This is in contrast to the heart health risks posed by saturated fats.
Omega 3 nourishes the myocardium, the heart muscle.
It also helps prevent the clogging of the arteries, which leads to arteriosclerosis.
Omega 3 is also a metabolic fuel with thermogenic (fat burning) properties, thus completely betraying the notion of fat causing fat.
Unsaturated fatty acids are often extracted or pressed as oil (liquid fat).
This is achieved by forcing the substance out of a food source or separating it from other constituents.
Often, this means the oil is accompanied with a plethora of potent nutrients that optimize your health in other ways.
For example, olive oil is known to contain oleic acid, which inhibits the formation of estrogen-like compounds, while also nourishing the Leydig cells in the male testes.
These effects help optimize natural testosterone production, crucial for men’s reproductive, physical and mental health.
Oils like cumin, hemp seed, flaxseed and oregano seed oil have strong evidence of their ability to treat serious illnesses and infections.
On this basis, as far as healthy fat is concerned, unsaturated fat clearly has the upper hand.
Trans Fats: The Bad Guy
As mentioned, unsaturated fat is good for you and saturated fat can be bad if not kept in check.
When it comes to trans fats however, avoiding them completely is the best course of action.
Trans fats are a known proponent of coronary heart disease.
They are more likely to increase its risk of occurrence than unsaturated fat. Aside from this, trans fats increase the risk of Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and liver disease.
These fats are largely due to industrial food processing.
They undergo a processing method called hydrogenation whereby hydrogen is added to turn them into solids.
This is how things like margarine are produced, food once touted as a healthy alternative to butter.
As it turns out, it is quite the opposite
Processed Fats vs. Raw Fats
When it comes to healthy fat, the type of fat is one thing.
The other thing to keep in mind is the condition in which we consume it.
The fats we eat often undergo many processes before they enter our bodies.
Some of these processes are designed to make them safer for human consumption, others merely to make them more attractive to consumers.
Fat also enters our body because it is used to process other foods, including fried foods.
We can also consume fat in its raw form either by consuming it together with the food source in which it is contained or by performing the concentrated extraction through a process known as cold pressing.
Processed and refined oils tend to lose many of the most important nutrients in the processing process.
Often they become harmful and unhealthy.
Acid and radiation treatment often alters the natural chemical structures of these fats and at best, renders them ineffective as healthy fats.
Frying our food also leads to many potential health risks.
Roasting can cause rapid production of free radicals, which are the major cause of oxidative stress and cell damage.
Cold pressed oils, however, present themselves as healthy fats.
These are extracted by pressing them out of seeds or plant sources with little or no heat, hence the term cold pressing.
They are bottled, sold and consumed in their natural state, preserving the full value of the nutrients they contain.
The only risk associated with cold oils is the possibility of contamination.
Unlike refined oils, they have not undergone sterilization to prevent this.
It is therefore best to source cold pressed fats from a reputable source.
When it comes to healthy fats, the most important thing to realize is what type of fats we consume.
Unsaturated fats are definitely the way to go.
We should definitely try to avoid the processed and refined versions.
Always remember moderation is a key factor, just like everything in life.