Why Healthy Fats?
The healthy things that healthy fats do for you.
People used to think dietary fat made you fat, slow, and heart attack-y.
Science knows slightly better now.
If you’re focusing on the right kind and quantity of fats, healthy fats are necessary to help being strong, fit, and healthy.
What’s healthy fat?
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)
Why healthy fats?
- help you recover faster
- nourish fatty tissues like your brain, eyes, and cell membranes
- help you absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like Vitamin A, D, and K
- keep your muscle-building and sexytime hormones revving
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… yeah!)
Believe it or not, healthy fats can actually help you lose fat. (Sounds insane! It’s true!).
If you get enough of these important fats, your hormones stay healthy, you keep kicking ass in the gym (and the bedroom), and you stay smart and happy.
(Plus your skin looks diviiiiine.)
And let’s be honest: Fat makes food taste real good.
What makes other fats unhealthy?
Unlike healthy fats, unhealthy fats:
- don’t naturally occur in the foods they’re found in
- have to be created through an industrial process.
Consuming a lot of unhealthy fats can lead to chronic inflammation, risk of heart disease and cancer, and other nasty things.
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
- 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 and seed oils
Some industrial vegetable and seed oils are highly refined through chemical processing.
These oils include:
These oils undergo a lot of processing to 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.
(Not all oils are created equally. See the fat continuum graphic in the resources to see how different options fall on a continuum of better to worse.)
Many foods are made with these industrial vegetable and seed oils, including:
- commercial salad dressing
- commercial mayonnaise
- butter substitutes
- fried and battered foods
- most processed foods
As always, there’s no such thing as absolutely “good” and “bad” foods, and it’s not necessary to completely eliminate these industrial oils.
Level up: Balancing your fats
If you’re getting the basics of some healthy fats at most meals, consider the balance 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. It can be pretty easy once you have a basic familiarity of convenient foods within those different fat categories.
Work with yourself
What’s reasonable for you within the context of your lifestyle?
Start with small improvements in the ways that matter most to you. Focus on the small changes that you can implement consistently.
As all new skills are, this is a game and an experiment. Try stuff and see what works for you. Play with it and—if the time is right—challenge yourself.