There was a time not so long ago when all fats were considered to be bad, and people would restrict them from their diets completely in their quest to get lean. Fortunately, things have improved and research continues to prove how important it is to eat the right types of fat every day.
Fats are one of the three macronutrients, the other 2 being carbohydrates and protein. Fats contain 9 calories per gram while carbs and protein are 4 calories per gram. There are 3 main types of fat you should be aware of, these are Saturated, Unsaturated and Trans.
Because fat contains more calories per gram people who are trying to lose weight should control the amount of it in their diet.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in animal foods such as butter, egg yolks, whole milk, cheese and meats. Saturated fats are also found in tropical oils, such as coconut oil, palm oil, and cocoa butter.
Foods made with butter or margarine will contain high levels of saturated fats (cakes, cookies etc.).
Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and can be split into two categories; Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).
Polyunsaturated fats are omega fatty-acids (3,6,7,9), sunflower oil, canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, margarine, light spreads, etc.
Monounsaturated fats come from olive oil, almond oil, avocado oil, hazelnut oil, macadamia nut oil, peanut butter, etc.
This is a fat that has been changed by a process called hydrogenation (adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid). This process increases the shelf life of foods while giving them a desirable taste and texture. You may see this on the packaging of food under something like hydrogenated vegetable oil, partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil, hardened vegetable oil, partially-hardened vegetable oil, or margarine.
Foods high in trans fat include fast food, ready meals, muffins, doughnuts, cakes, cookies, pies, fries etc.
Good & Bad
You probably have an idea which of the fats above are good for you, and which ones are bad, but what is it that makes them good or bad?
The modern diet has had a dramatic change in the ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fats consumed. This has a very detrimental effect on our bodies, and over time can contribute to major illness and disease.
Human beings evolved eating a diet with a omega-6:omega-3 ratio of about 1:1. Modern Western diets exhibit omega-6:omega-3 ratios ranging between 15:1 to 17:1.
Omega-6 / Omega-3
The chart on the right lists the omega-6 and omega-3 content of various foods and it is clear to see why we have a problem.
An Omega-6: Omega-3 ratio that is too high can contribute to excess inflammation in the body, potentially raising the risk of all sorts of diseases including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome & inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune diseases and cancer.
You should be aiming to increase your omega 3 intakes while reducing your omega 6 intakes.
The single most important thing you can do to reduce your Omega-6 intake is to avoid processed seed and vegetable oils, as well as the processed foods that contain them. These “foods” were only introduced to humans in the past 100 years and they have completely distorted the natural balance of these essential fatty acids.
The best and healthiest way to increase your Omega-3 intake is to eat seafood once or twice per week. Fatty fish like salmon is a particularly good source. Wild caught fish is best, but even farmed is better than no fish at all.
Another way to get these healthy Omega-3 fats is through supplementation, there are plenty of supplements available, cod liver being one of the best.
There are some plant sources of Omega-3, like flax and chia seeds. However, these contain a type of Omega-3 called ALA. Humans are inefficient converters of ALA into the active forms, EPA and DHA.
To optimise your health you should try and limit your intake of trans fats and fats high in omega 6. To improve blood cholesterol levels and shift your omega ratio back in your favour you need to consume more unsaturated fats from fish, nuts and certain oils.