What Makes Fats Healthy?
The healthy fat continuum.
Why are healthy fats so good for us?
Healthy fats are:
- naturally occurring (such as the fat in olives, nuts and seeds);
- relatively minimally processed (either they’re whole foods, or they’ve been simply pressed or ground).
These are the kinds of fats that keep your hormones healthy, your brain happy and smart, your fatty tissues (such as your eyes and skin) well-lubed, and your body chemistry working smoothly.
When you eat healthy fats, you feel good, perform well, and recover easily.
Plus stuff tastes really good. (Avocado, nut butter, and coconut! And a little bit of dark chocolate… yessssss)
Your friend, the walnut. Pick and eat.
What makes other fats unhealthy?
Unhealthy fats tend to increase inflammation, risk of heart disease and cancer, and other undesireable things.
What makes these particular fats “unhealthy”?
Unlike healthy fats, you’ll notice that these unhealthy fats:
- don’t naturally occur in the foods they’re found in; and
- have to be created through an industrial process.
Trans fats are created in an industrial process that forces hydrogens into vegetable/seed oils, which makes them more solid. Food manufacturers mainly use the process to lengthen a product’s shelf life. Solid fat is more stable on the shelf.
Look for the terms partially hydrogenated or vegetable shortening.
These tell you that there are trans fats in the product, even if the product lists 0 g of trans fats per serving.
Those sneaky devils are allowed to do so if the serving contains less than 0.5 g.
You can also look for mono and diglycerides on the label, which are other processed (less-healthy) forms of fat.
Many packaged and storable foods contain a lot of trans fats, including:
- margarine or processed oils, such as cooking spray;
- regular peanut butter;
- fried or battered foods;
- pie crust and other baked goods; and
- frozen dinners and other processed foods.
Some foods, such as dairy and beef, contain naturally occurring trans fats. These naturally occurring trans fats don’t seem to be a problem, and some research suggests they may actually be good for us.
(Again, notice how when fats naturally occur in food, they are usually healthy.)
There is no amount of industrial trans fat consumption that is recognized as safe.
Do your best to minimize your intake. (if it’s a work in progress, that’s okay.)
Industrial vegetable/seed oils
Then, there are other kinds of oils that we can only create with industrial processing.
These oils include:
- soybean; and
These oils undergo a lot of processing to actually become edible: High heat and harsh chemicals (such as bleaches, solvents, and deodorizers) strip them of many nutrients.
Because of the heat and processing these oils undergo, they can have significant amounts of trans fats in them.
Many foods are made with these industrial
- vegetable/seed oils, including:
- commercial salad dressing;
- commercial mayonnaise;
- butter substitutes;
- fried and battered foods; and
- most processed foods.
Important: These are categorizations of “healthy” and “less healthy” foods.
There’s no such thing as absolutely “good” and “bad” foods.
You don’t have to eliminate trans fats or vegetable/seed oils entirely.
Having some restaurant salad dressing or regular peanut butter on occasion won’t kill you. It’s making informed choices and what you do consistently that matters.
Level up: Balancing your fats
If you’re consistently getting some healthy fats at most meals, consider dialing-in the details: balance your fat intake between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
The healthiest mix is about a 1-1-1 balance. That mix will keep inflammation balanced, and all brain and body cells talking to each other nicely.
That level of detail could seem intimidating at first. Make it easy for yourself by building a roster of convenient go-to foods within each category.