The typical American breakfast leading into the “war on fat” of the 70s and 80s consisted of whole eggs, bacon and a glass of whole milk. In the late 70s, the “Dietary Goals for the United States” encouraged Americans to eat less high-fat red meat, eggs and dairy. This led to higher consumption of carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Then in 1980, dietary guidelines by the US department of Agriculture suggested removing cholesterol and fat altogether because of the rise of obesity and disease. Within the next 20 years, cardiovascular disease became the number one killer and obesity escalated. The role of fat in the American diet has been misunderstood. As the numbers of disease increased, scientific research began to unravel the role fats play in our body’s healthy functioning.
Fat consists of saturated fat, unsaturated fat, and trans fat.
- Unsaturated fats (the “healthy” fats) include monounsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, and omega fatty acids. Unsaturated fats are typically liquid at room temperature. They provide benefits to our immune system and skin health by nourishing the cell membranes of cells and assisting in the absorption of vitamin D. Healthy sources include avocadoes, nuts, seeds, fish, and vegetable oils.
- Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and tend to increase “bad” cholesterol. However, recent research has shown the benefits of saturated fats on our brain health (http://greatist.com/eat/healthy-fats-best-foods-for-brain-health). Pasture-raised eggs, coconut oil, grass-fed beef, and cacao are excellent sources of healthy saturated fats.
- Trans fats, also known as hydrogenated fats, are the unhealthy, manufactured fats used in processed food. Trans fat increases the risk of coronary heart disease by raising levels of “bad” LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol in the blood (http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ps/fat.html). Sources include most processed foods, donuts, cookies, cakes, etc. and should honestly be avoided.
Turns out that fat is not the culprit it has been made out to be. Recent research has shown that fats are critical in the proper functioning of our most important bodily systems. Our brain, lungs, immune system, liver and hormones depend on fat to work properly. Our brain tissue, for instance, is made up of 60% fat. Our lungs are coated with a substance composed entirely of saturated fat. Vitamins A, D, E and K are fat-soluble, thus relying on fat to be transported and absorbed by the body. Fat also makes up the cell membrane of our skin cells. When fat consumption is increased, our immune system is bolstered and overall health can improved. The problem with fats lies in the source and how much of each type we consume.
Trans fat should be avoided at all costs. Unsaturated fat has been long known as the healthy fats, but benefits of saturated fats have recently been discovered as well. The sources of these fats is critical in finding a way to receive benefits from fat. Here are some excellent sources of healthy fats to incorporate into your diet.
Of course you’ve heard this one, but why? Avocados are 77% fat by calories, making them richer in fat than most animal foods. The fat is the monounsaturated kind known as oleic acid (also found in olive oil). They are also a great source of potassium and fiber.
Raw Cacao is not only extremely rich in antioxidants and fat (65% of calories), but it also contains manganese, copper, magnesium, and iron. Cardiovascular health has also been linked to people that consume dark chocolate that is 70% cacao or more on a regular basis. It is energizing, rich in minerals, and high in fat.
Salmon, preferably wild-caught, is full of heart – healthy omega 3 fatty acids. The EPA and DHA fatty acids in salmon help improve fetal development, cardiovascular function and Alzheimer’s disease.
Nuts are high in healthy fats and an excellent source of plant-based protein. They are also rich in vitamin E and magnesium. The best ones include almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts. Peanut butter is also an excellent source, but make sure it is organic and only
Chia seeds, an Aztec superfood, consist mainly of omega 3 fatty acids known as ALA (alpha linoleic acid). Chia seeds also provide minerals, calcium, and fiber. Like most superfoods, a little does a lot!
6.Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is rich in unsaturated fats. It also has vitamins E, K and antioxidants. It has been shown to lower cholesterol and improve heart health. It is most nutritious when consumed at room temperature.
7.Extra virgin coconut oil
is the highest source of saturated fat, consisting mostly of medium chain fatty acids and lauric acid. Medium chain triglycerides go straight to the liver and are turned into ketone bodies, which help with the breakdown of fats in the body. Lauric acid, a healthy saturated fat, also has antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant properties. Because the brain is 60% fat, the saturated fat in coconut oil is major brain food.
is high in saturated fat and fat soluble vitamins. It also contains vitamin K2 and omega 3 fatty acids. Vitamin K2 helps to keep calcium out of the arteries and reduces the risk of osteoporosis and heart disease.
are a great source of unsaturated fat. They are specifically high in monounsaturated fat which helps fight inflammation. In addition, the antioxidant polyphenol present in olives helps decrease the risk of heart disease.
So feed your body and brain! Include healthy sources of saturated fats like coconut oil, cacao, and grass-fed beef as a great addition to your unsaturated fats from oils, fish, nuts and seeds. Stay clear of trans fats and saturated fats found in processed foods. And always go for organic options when possible. Your body and brain will thank you.
Sasha is a Miami native and has earned her BA from Boston University. Her love for Chinese medicine has enabled her to address many different ailments in her life. She is an Herbal Pharmacist in our Miami Beach dispensary and enjoys quiet time with her cats and husband; in that order