We have discussed in a previous article why fat is not the enemy to weight loss and eating fat will not make you gain weight. In fact, fat plays an important role in your diet in helping you stay satisfied so you end up eating less overall. There are several considerations to make when choosing healthy fats for your diet.
Monounsaturated fats are considered the healthiest fats because they help lower “bad” cholesterol levels. Foods that are high in monounsaturated fats include: olive oil, avocados, and raw nuts. They do not do well heated to high temperatures because this negatively impacts the composition of the oil. Enjoy monounsaturated fats in your diet by eating some raw nuts as a snack or a few slices of avocado to a salad or sandwich.
Certain polyunsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fats, found in fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, are also considered some of the healthiest fats. Most people’s diets are too low in these healthy fats therefore it is important to focus on increasing your intake. Omega-3s have been shown to be beneficial for a huge number of ailments, including improving symptoms of post-partum depression, reducing risk of heart disease, and even decreasing the appearance of wrinkles. The reason omega-3 fats have so many benefits is that they help reduce inflammation, which is believed to be an underlying cause of almost all chronic diseases. Try to eat wild-caught fish, such as salmon, herring, or mackerel, at least twice a week. Add walnuts or flaxseed to salads or cereals.
Other polyunsaturated fats, such as vegetable or corn oil, used to be considered the “gold standard”for fats in the diet. But, new research has shown that although they may lower cholesterol levels,polyunsaturated fats are actually pro-inflammatory and may increase your risk of many diseases. They also compete with the absorption of omega-3 fats which are anti-inflammatory healthy fats.
Saturated fats are found in animal products, such as butter and tropical oils, such as coconut oil. These fats used to be on the “banned” list due to their perceived impact on cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. But, recent research has shown that saturated fats may not actually increase the risk of heart attack. Coconut oil, a saturated fat, has been shown to have significant health benefits from helping with weight loss to lowering levels of inflammation. Consider cooking with coconut oil which can be heated to high temperatures and replace margarine with real butter, it tastes better and does not contain trans fats.
Trans fats are a man-made fat designed to extend shelf-life of foods, they are usually found in packaged or processed foods. When your body is faced with metabolizing these fats, since they do not occur often in nature, your body has no idea what to do with them. Trans fats increase inflammation and raise cholesterol levels.
The easiest way to decrease your intake of polyunsaturated and trans fats is to eat fewer processed and fast foods. These fats are commonly used in processed foods because they are quite inexpensive and don’t go bad quickly. Fried foods are usually fried in a polyunsaturated or trans fats, making them not just high in calories, but also quite inflammatory due to the type of fat used. Avoid bottled salad dressings, make your own from olive oil. Don’t eat margarine which is high in polyunsaturated or trans fats.
Healthy fats are quite susceptible to oxidation the damage caused by oxygen and therefore should be protected from exposure to air. When an oil is exposed to air for an extended period of time and is allowed to become oxidized, it becomes rancid and will taste really off.
This is especially important when dealing with less stable mono- and polyunsaturated oils, such as olive or canola oil. Solid fats, generally saturated fats, such as butter or coconut oil can keep much longer and are not as reactive to oxygen, therefore air-tight storage is not quite as important.
When storing the healthy oils, ensure that they are stored in containers that are air tight and limit their exposure to heat and light. Dark colored glass containers work best for storage. It is not advisable to store oils next to the stove where they will be exposed to variable temperatures. These unstable oils should not be kept for longer than 4 to 6 months to ensure optimal freshness.
Cooking with Fats
When choosing fats for cooking, the most important component is the fat’s smoke point. The smoke point is the temperature where the oil begins to smoke and can begin to produce free radicals and toxic fumes. Fats with high smoke points are best for cooking at high temperatures. These are generally the saturated fats such as coconut oil and butter. Olive oil and other monounsaturated fats are quite sensitive to heat and therefore should only be used for low heat cooking methods.
Oils for salad dressings, drizzling over foods, or dipping are those with the lowest smoke points and that should not be heated. These oils include flaxseed oil and wheat germ oil, both of which are a source of omega-3 fats. Omega-3s are particular sensitive to heat and light exposure.
Overall,the type of fat you choose is equally as important as the quantity of fat in your diet. Start with monounsaturated fats like olive oil and avocados, add in some fish a few times a week for a boost of omega-3s. Cook with coconut oil and avoid margarine and other processed fats. Fats have so many health benefits and taste great.