Is there such thing as a “Bad” and “Good” fat?
Many diets attempting to reduce weight and body fat emphasize low dietary consumption of fats. Although low fat diets are well intended to reduce cholesterol, prevent diabetes, and lower blood pressure, low fat diets tend to dissociate and ignore the types of fats that can actually benefit body function and support hormone function.
A low fat diet was emphasized for several reasons over past decades including present day diet trends. Low fat diets often help reduce caloric intake from edible sources such as fast foods, pre-packed and processed foods. Fats contain more than twice (9 cal/g) the caloric value of carbohydrates (4 cal/g), and your appetite is initially satisfied by volume rather than density of calories. In other words, you can eat 1000 calories in a chocolate bar and still be hungry, versus eating a bowl of rice, beans and chicken that is 400 calories but is VERY filling.
The difference between “good” and “bad” fats: Unsaturated fats are generally considered “good”, and consist of oils and fats that remain liquid in room temperature. Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids are in this category, and have shown an ability to reduce cholesterol, cardiovascular risk, and lower body inflammation. Examples of unsaturated fats are vegetable oils, walnuts, and olives, while Omega-3 fats primarily come from fish like salmon and trout, but are also abundant in vegetarian sources like avocado, hemp and chia seeds. Omega-6 fats, though considered “good” can compete with Omega-3 fat absorption, and are still necessary for brain function, muscle growth and hormone production, but are not nearly as beneficial as the Omega-3 fats. Examples of Omega-6 fats include corn oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil, which are commercially used to produce candy, cookies, crackers, popcorn, granola, dairy creamer, margarine, frozen pizza, and other snacks.
Saturated fats include trans-fats (artificial and naturally occuring) and hydrogenated oils, which are generally solid in room temperature. Naturally occuring trans-fats, like coconut oil, is about 90% saturated fat and 10% unsaturated fat. Coconut oil has been used more popularly in many ingredients because of it’s many benefits (like effectively raising HDL) and it’s butter-like texture for cooking. Artificial trans-fats are produced by taking something like a vegetable oil (an unsaturated oil) and forcing hydrogen into it’s molecular structure in order to make it more suitable for texture and flavor in commercial cooking processes. Animal fats from red meats, for example, are still beneficial for various body functions but can increase the risk of high cholesterol when over consumed, or if the body isn’t prepared to metabolize it.
The overconsumption of trans-fats has been associated with high blood pressure, clogged arteries, heart disease and the development of type 2 diabetes. Most popular diets discourage consumption of trans-fats which are present in fast foods and pre-packaged foods. It is to your benefit to avoid these types of fats altogether by eating more whole foods and choosing a greater percentage of unsaturated fats to obtain the benefits of a “good” fat diet. Trans-fat consumption is usually paired with a high carbohydrate meal, which is highly problematic. Your body will use carbohydrate sources for energy first and fats as a last resort fuel. So a high carb PLUS high fat meal causes your body to store the fat rather than use the fat for fuel.
Some of the benefits of eating (unfried) fish, avocados, nuts, seeds, and coconut oils include lowering cholesterol and systemic inflammation, feeling fuller after a meal, and giving your body resources to support nerves, brain function, and hormone production. At the end of the day though, your caloric intake still matters. Meaning, you can still put on body weight with “good” fat consumption especially when paired with a high carbohydrate meal. So watch out! Expend more energy than you consume if weight gain is an issue!
Dr. Adrian Pujayana has been providing drug-free solutions for health and wellness to adults, athletes, and youth since 2000 through his private practice at Family Chiropractic Center of South Pasadena, a place for strength training and nutrition based health care.