Fat was out of the picture for the better part of the 20th century due to the massive in-field study (Seven Countries Study) conducted by Ancel Keys. He investigated the dietary patterns of different countries, measured their blood pressure, collected blood samples and gathered other significant measurements. Finally. Ancel Keys concluded that dietary saturated fat is directly linked to the heart disease and should be avoided. Not long after, the American Heart Association implemented the recommendations to limit the saturated fat intake due to overwhelming proof of this all-encompassing study. However, the society, instead of consuming more fruits and vegetables, started eating more processed foods that started to get widely available due to the food industry jumping in and embracing the “low fat” craze. Recently, a meta-analysis (a study of the studies) has been conducted and it concluded that the link of saturated fat intake and coronary heart disease is inconsistent. The mainstream media took this up as a green light for saturated fat. “Eat Butter” – the cover of the Time magazine proclaimed.
Well, so should you start eating extra butter? PROBABLY NOT! Let’s talk fat! The fats in the typical Western diet are significantly abused. In our predecessors the Omega 6 (sometimes referred to as pro-inflammatory) to Omega 3 (anti-inflammatory) ratio was close to 1:1. The current average of this ratio is >20:1 (!). We can clearly see that our dietary changes are not leading our society to a healthier lifestyle, since the rates of obesity have been skyrocketing in the past decade. Overconsumption of Omega 6 fats is making us more inflamed and promotes cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer.
Not all fat is bad, right? Correct! However, there is one fat that we should steer absolutely clear of - trans fat. It raises our LDL cholesterol and lowers HDL cholesterol levels and is barely found in natural foods. As for saturated fats, the current recommendation from the American Heart Association claims that under 7% of your daily caloric intake should come from saturated fats. So what fats should you eat? Go for naturally occurring fats that are found in nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios), seeds (pumpkin, chia), avocados, grass-fed beef or pasture-raised eggs. If you are looking for a reliable oil to cook with, go for avocado oil, grass-fed ghee, lard, butter or coconut oil. Extra virgin olive oil has a low smoke point, therefore it's not great for cooking, but feel free to douse your salads with it. Other oils are highly refined, causing inflammation and do not promote a healthy lifestyle.
If you want to dive more into the world of fats and educate yourself on what is what, hang in there with me!
There are two general types of fats: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are broken down into three subcategories: Monounsaturated fats, Polyunsaturated fats and Trans fats.
Saturated fats usually stay solid at room temperature and have high smoke points. Some foods rich in saturated fats are: eggs, beef, coconut oil and pork.
Monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and have lower smoke points. Main foods that contain monounsaturated fats are avocados, nuts and seeds and olive oil. These fats are usually considered to be the healthiest ones to consume.
Polyunsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature and get solid when kept in lower temperatures. They are classified by four different Omega Fatty Acids (3, 6, 7, 9). As mentioned before, Omega 3s are anti-inflammatory (in foods like salmon, walnuts, flaxseeds) and Omega 6s are pro-inflammatory (found in salad dressings, fried foods, grain-fed beef). Polyunsaturated fats are also healthy to consume, as long as Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is 4:1 and under.
Trans fats. There are two types of trans fats – natural and artificial. Natural trans fats are found in small amounts in dairy products, beef and pork and are not harmful if consumed in moderate quantities. Conversely, artificial trans fats are highly processed and even small amounts can be harmful. They raise our LDL cholesterol levels and lower HDL levels, damage our gut lining and increase risk of heart disease and diabetes. Trans fats are sneaky, so read your labels and avoid anything that says “partially hydrogenated oil” on it.
The bottom line is – experiment with different fat ratios in your diet and make sure they're coming from good sources, while trying to completely eliminate trans fats from your diet in order to maximize your health!