The Skinny on Healthy Fats?
By Lisa Murray RDN, LD
We hear a lot about the importance of including healthy fats in our daily diet, and many people are not aware of what that really means. The content of fat in your diet isn’t only about what oil you choose to cook with, it also includes the foods you eat that contain fat. Fats are made up of different “fatty acids” some of which have potent biological activity. Omega 6 fatty acids are concentrated in many vegetable oils like corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and also in grains like wheat. Because these oils and grains are ubiquitous in most American cereals, baked goods and processed foods, the American diet contains way too many Omega 6 fatty acids in contrast to other fatty acids and is out of natural balance. This is why the American diet is “pro-inflammatory” and this is where “healthy fats” rich in Omega 3 and Omega 9 fatty acids come in to help promote balance and greater health.
So what are healthy fats?
Those with a higher content of Omega 3 fatty acids, higher levels of oleic acid (Omega 9) and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), as well as fats containing medium chain triglycerides (MCT), because all of these types of fats have health benefits.
Here’s a list of foods that provide healthy fats, and what makes them “healthy”:
- Wild caught salmon: One of the highest sources of beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids, but all fish contain these good fats. Sardines are also a significant and healthy source.
- Grass fed beef: may contain up to 5 times as much Omega-3 as traditional corn fed beef and much higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)-a fatty acid which is associated with improving lean muscle mass and reducing body fat. The natural food source for cattle is grass which results in a healthier body composition, and a healthier food source for humans.
- Butter or ghee from grass fed cows: contains butyric acid, a short chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties, omega 3’s, and up to 5 times more CLA than butter from grain fed cows.
- Organic eggs from pastured chickens: much higher in omega 3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol than regular eggs.
- Avocados: A rich source of oleic acid, the same monounsaturated fatty acid that’s in olive oil.
- Walnuts: have higher Omega 3 content than other nuts
- Olive oil: another rich source of oleic acid
- Coconut oil: the fat in coconut is primarily medium chain triglyceride or MCT. MCTs are easily digested, and absorbed whole, so your body uses them directly as a fuel source and they are associated with weight loss. Coconut is very rich in lauric acid, an unusually uncommon fatty acid with some unique health benefits. Lauric acid increases HDL, and although is rare to find in foods, comprises over 6% of the fat in human breast milk. In addition, the fatty acids contained in coconut are antimicrobial.
The Fuss Over Olive Oil
Oleic acid is the primary monounsaturated fat in avocados and olive oil. Many studies over time have shown that diets rich in olive oil, like the Mediterannean diet, have a positive impact on the total COMPOSITION of human blood lipids. The heart healthy benefits are reduced total cholesterol, reduced triglycerides, lower LDL and increased HDL. In addition, studies have shown it may also support healthier glucose metabolism even in those with prediabetes.
Olive oil is wonderful for cooking at lower temperatures, for salad dressings and drizzling over vegetables, hummus or breads. Look for an organic extra-virgin cold-pressed olive oil that’s available in a darkly colored glass container.
For higher heat cooking, choose avocado oil, coconut oil or ghee. They have a higher smoke point and can tolerate higher temperatures before degrading, making them a better choice for stir frying, or pan searing. All have wonderful health benefits and are great additions to a health conscious kitchen.