What Fats are Good Fats?
In the third of our series of blogs on macronutrients, we will look at ‘Fats’ and find out ‘What Fat is Good Fat’. You can check out our other blogs on Protein and Carbohydrates to understand them a little more.
What are Fats?
Fats are one of the 3 macronutrients that the body uses for energy and are essential for many functions within our bodies. Aside from an energy source fats help with cell function, brain function, insulate the body and protecting organs. They also help the body absorb vital nutrients and vitamins.
As an energy source fats are awesome! Containing 9 calories per gram, this is more than double that of Carbohydrates and Proteins. For low intensity exercise, fats are the main substrate and the body utilises them very efficiently. The problems can occur when we over consume fats as any excess is stored by the body. This storage is an ancient evolutionary response to prepare our bodies for times when food was scarce, but nowadays this is rarely the case.
There are 3 types of fats. Saturated fats, Unsaturated fats and Trans fats. This is where it can get confusing so stick with me on this one.
Trans fats are created by a process called hydrogenation and were orignally used to prolong the shelf life of foods. Found in foods such as doughnuts, french fries, frozen pizza, cookies and microwave popcorn, they raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL) in the body. This is turn increases the risk of heart disease. The good news is that the use of trans fats in food production is now banned in the US and many countries around the world. The bad news is the UK is not one of these countries.
Saturated Fats are mostly naturally occurring and from animal products. Solid at room temperature these fats are commonly within meat products – think bacon rind. Other sources are whole milk, cheeses, dairy products, and coconut oil. These fats are likely to raise your total cholesterol levels both good and bad and therefore increase the risk of heart disease, blocked arteries and strokes. Some recent studies have suggested that things are not quite as clear cut as this but current guidance is to limit this type of fat.
It is with unsaturated fats where there is research to suggest there are health benefits to consuming these in our diets. These are the good fats and come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds and fish. At room temperature these are liquid. There are 2 types of unsaturated fats (mono and poly) but both are thought to have health benefits lowering cholesterol when used to replace saturated or trans fats. If you’ve heard of Omega 3 and Omega 6 then this os the category that they fall into.
Keep it Simple
On a basic level and to try and keep things simple…… Trans fats are bad, avoid these. Saturated fats are bad in high doses, limit these. Unsaturated fats can be good, keep eating these from good food sources.
Eating a healthy diet and making good food choices can be tricky, having a good range of fish, vegetables, nuts and seeds is a great starting point. And if we can replace some trans and saturated fats with good fats this can certainly help.