Good news first, bad news later, right? That’s why I decided to discuss health types of dietary fat first. Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Those two types of dietary fat should make up the majority of your diet. Unfortunately, our typical western diet(s) are much higher in other types of fat, which is one of the reasons why we are a sick nation! Not coincidentally, the increase of fast food consumption was accompanied by increasing rates in obesity and heart disease.
So, what is unsaturated fat?
Unsaturated fat refers to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. This type of fat has the least number of hydrogen atoms compared to saturated and trans fats, thus it remains in liquid form at room temperature.
Thanks to our traditional diet, majority of our unsaturated fat intake will often come from monounsaturated fats. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but balance is key (more on that in a bit). Monounsaturated fats are abundant in nuts (peanuts, almonds, cashews, walnuts…etc.), olive oil and canola oil (avoid canola oil like the plague, though!).
A diet high in monounsaturated fats has been shown in clinical studies to improve cardiac health and decrease the risk of getting heart disease as opposed to a diet high in trans and saturated fats. Monounsaturated fats have also been linked with decreasing cholesterol levels, more precisely, bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides.
Monounsaturated fats are consumed in large quantities in Mediterranean countries as part of their traditional Mediterranean diet. Those countries tend to consume plenty of olive oil, which is an excellent source of monounsaturated fats. When compared to western countries, Mediterranean populations were shown to have a very low risk of developing heart disease. This also due to the prevalence of trans and saturated fats in western diets. Thus, the result of those countries being at a lesser risk of developing heart disease is because of those two factors, not just one or the other.
Fish oil, anyone? Through recent years, fish oil supplements have been heavily marketed as a magical treatment to everything from high cholesterol to joint pain.
While this is somewhat true, it doesn’t say the whole story. However, polyunsaturated fats are where essential fatty acids come from.
Essential fatty acids include: omega-6 and omega-3. The fitness industry’s focus through recent years has been more on omega-3 fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential to human health. Eating an adequate amount of polyunsaturated fats is mandatory for building cell membranes and nerve endings.
Polyunsaturated fats also help fight inflammation, which can literally make or break your body composition efforts and health. In comparison to our western diets, Asian countries, which are known for eating tons of fatty fish on almost a daily basis, have also been shown to be at a much lesser risk of developing heart disease. This is majorly attributed to the prevalence of omega-3 in their diets.
Okay, so we understand that we must eat most of our dietary fat from both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, however, there is still one important thing the fitness industry has not caught up on yet! And this is: omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
As mentioned before, our diets are extremely rich in omega-6 fatty acids, but not in omega-3 fatty acids. This is because omega-6 fatty acids are found in most oils that we consume daily, cheese, animal meat and nuts. On the other hand, to consume a good amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, you should consume some type of fatty fish.
Examples of fatty fish are: salmon, sardine, anchovy, mackerel, herring and many more. And let’s be honest, who even eats regular (non-fatty) fish that often?
The extensive research that has been made on omega-3 over the past decade or so usually came to the same conclusion: omega-3 fatty acids improve your cholesterol levels, increase good cholesterol (HDL), improve cognitive function, improve memory, improve blood flow to muscles, improve insulin sensitivity and thus nutrient partitioning, improve muscle function, increase fat oxidation rates and many more benefits that I cannot possibly list in one paragraph. Thus, the problem with our traditional diet is that we are not only missing out on all these benefits, but we are also continuing to consume garbage and highly processed foods that do nothing but harm our health and ruin our aesthetic appearance.
Recent strong research has also found that while consuming a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids can improve every function of your body, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids plays a crucial role as well! The average American diet contains approximately 14 to 25 more omega-6 than omega-3 fatty acids!
Ideally, that ratio should be somewhere between 2:1 to 4:1. While no one has the time to meticulously calculate his daily ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, a high-quality diet that is based on real food and high in good fats should automatically do the job. So, focus on that. It’s worthy of noting that not all types of omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation.
Where should I get my omega-6 fatty acids from?
- Full fat cheese.
- Whole milk.
- Grass fed butter.
- Sesame and corn oils.
- Animal meats. Beef / chicken.
Note: this list doesn’t include every single food that is high in omega-6 fatty acids. However, it includes foods that we eat on almost a daily basis.
Where should I get my omega-3 fatty acids from?
- Fatty fish: Salmon, herring, anchovy, sardine, mackerel…etc. Ideally, wild caught fish, not farm raised.
- Fish oil supplements (high quality sources are STRONGLY recommended due to the prevalence of neurotoxic substances such as mercury in low quality fish oil supplements.)
- Walnuts (ALA: alpha-linolenic acid)
- Fish roe (eggs/caviar)
- Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil.
- Spinach (Popeye ate spinach for a reason).
- Omega-3 enriched eggs. (Wild flaxseed fed chicken).
Note: this list is not a definitive source of omega-3 fatty acids rich foods, however, it serves as a good start.
Canola Oil is garbage
Per the FDA recommendations and regulations, restaurants across the United States are required to use canola oil as their sole source of oil in cooking. Now, I am not trying to promote a conspiracy theory whatsoever, but canola oil is one of the worst things you can put in your body! Canola oil does have monounsaturated fats, BUT here is why it could be considered pure poison:
- 90-95% of canola oil has undergone extensive genetic modifying procedures to make it more resistant to disease and thus make more profit by decreasing potential loss.
- Canola oil is never sold or made in its raw form. Yet, it has undergone extensive refinement processes that made it lose any nutritional value it initially had, and increased its hydrogen atoms. This process is called hydrogenation which aims to make an oil more stable at room temperature which could then be used for frying.
Next time you are buying an oil-based, processed or baked product, read the label! It will almost always state “hydrogenated” or “partially-hydrogenated” oils as part of the ingredients. Put those products down and go pick up some olive oil instead!
Now that you know what the good types of fat are, it’s time to discuss the bad and the not-so-bad types of dietary fat. Thus, we will discuss:
Saturated and Trans fats: Are they THAT unhealthy?
Ehrlich, S. D. (2015, Aug 5). Omega-6 fatty acids. Retrieved from University of Maryland School of Medicine: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega6-fatty-acids
Kelly, M. (2012, Dec 30). Top 7 Genetically Modified Crops. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/margie-kelly/genetically-modified-food_b_2039455.html
Peng Y, Z. Y. (2012, August). Different effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the cell cycle in C2C12 myoblast proliferation. Retrieved from PubMed: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22610825
The truth about fats: the good, the bad, and the in-between. (2015, February). Retrieved from Harvard Medical School: http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good