Have you seen those "fat free" foods in supermarkets? Have you possibly delighted in them guiltlessly thinking that they are healthy for you? There's a good chance that you have because we usually follow what the media and the world around us says. In this day in age, along with other health fads, many people believe that fat makes you fat. This is true, to an extent. What we fail to notice is that not all fats are bad.
If I had to guess, since the words fat (as in what's in food) and fat (as in excess body tissue, or adipose tissue) are the same word it makes sense that when you eat fat, you get fat. However, this is not the case. Now don't get me wrong, there is a difference between good fats and bad fats. If you eat the bad fats they can make you fat, and also contribute to several diseases. Your body uses the good fats in several ways to repair itself, grow, and work more efficiently.
Some of the benefits of eating these healthy fats include:
-Healthy fats are essential for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins
-Healthy fats have an anti-inflammatory effect ? they can help relieve many of the pains that we experience around our joints
-Healthy fats are essential for lubrication of our joints
-Healthy fats improve insulin sensitivity. Insulin is the hormone our bodies use to transport nutrients throughout the body. Insulin sensitivity is essentially a measure of how efficient our bodies use insulin. Insulin resistance is the opposite of insulin sensitivity and is one of the early stages of diabetes.
-Healthy fats can increase the strength of our immune system
-Healthy fats play a major role in the production of energy from foods we consume
-Healthy fats are required for our body to efficiently use oxygen
-Healthy fats can improve skin texture
-Healthy fats can increase your metabolism
-Healthy fats can help you burn more fat (the kind that is attached to your body)
Dr. Udo Erasmus, author of one of the most popular books ever about fat, "Fats the Heal, Fats that Kill", writes in his book, "At levels above 12 to 15% of total calories, healthy fats increase the rate of metabolic reactions in the body and the increased rate burns off more fat into carbon dioxide, water, and energy (heat), resulting in fat burn off and loss of excess weight."
In this article we will discuss what exactly these healthy fats are, where to get them from, easy ways to add them into your diet, and the optimal amount of fat that you should consume. I will also explain why the belief that "fats make you fat" has developed because fats can make you fat if you eat too many of them.
The Bad Fats
Trans fats are made by bubbling hydrogen through unsaturated fats in order to make them solid and have a longer shelf life. In addition, it was once thought that trans fats were a healthier alternative to saturated fats. However, this is far from the truth. In a statement made by the Bush Administration they warn us to keep consumption of trans fats "as low as possible" and also state that "the food industry has an important role in decreasing trans fatty acid content of the food supply."
Some of the top Harvard nutritionists state that replacing trans fats with a safer alternative would "prevent approximately 30,000 premature coronary deaths per year."
In fact, Denmark has already taken an initiative and banned the sale of trans fats to not allow more than 2% of the food to contain trans fats.
Now that you know that trans fats are bad, how do you avoid them? In America, the FDA has required food manufacturers to list the number of trans fats a food contains. This has helped consumers make wiser choices, but according to FDA regulation, "if the serving contains less than 0.5 gram, the content, when declared, shall be expressed as zero." This rule allows food manufacturers to list very small serving sizes and as long as the amount of trans fats is less than 0.5 grams in that particular serving, they are allowed to list it as 0 grams of trans fats.
The ultimate way to tell if a food contains trans fats or not is if the ingredients list contains the phrase "partially hydrogenated" or "shortening". Trans fats are mostly contained in foods such as candies, cookies, snack foods, chips, shortenings, and many restaurants.
Saturated fats are widely recognized as being bad fats. You probably know or believe this to be true, and it is to an extent. There is actually quite a controversy between many dieticians and nutritionists about saturated fats concerning the optimal amount that we should consume or if we should even consume them at all. The reason for most of the bad rap that saturated fat has been given is due to the fact that the liver uses it to produce cholesterol. It has been noted to raise the good (HDL) cholesterol as well as the bad (LDL) cholesterol. The FDA's general guideline for saturated fat is to limit it to about 10% of total calories per day. This would convert to about 20 grams per day for diet containing about 2,000 calories per day.
Saturated fat is mostly found in foods that are derived from animals. The exception would be coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils, which also contain saturated fat.
The Healthy Fats
Monounsaturated fat is believed to help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and raise the good (HDL) cholesterol. As listed in the beginning of this article, they also provide many healthy benefits.
Monounsaturated fats are mostly found in vegetable oils. Some examples would include olive oil and canola oil.
Polyunsaturated fats contain the family of fats known as Essential Fatty Acids, or EFAs. As you can tell by their name, these fats are essential to the body because the body cannot produce them on its own. The main EFAs are the Omega-3 fatty acid and the Omega-6 fatty acid. They provide many of the benefits listed at the beginning of this article as well. Good sources of these fatty acids are fish, mustard seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnut oil, leafy green vegetables, sunflower, soybean, avocados, and perhaps one of the best sources is flax seed (make sure to grind them or buy them in an oil form ? the stomach has trouble digesting the whole seeds).
-Why Fat Supposedly Makes You Fat
(Note: You can calculate your TDEE at
There is a simple law known as the Law of Thermodynamics. In addition to this, our bodies burn a certain number of calories per day (this number changes everyday and is influenced by many factors). This burning of calories everyday is known as total daily energy expenditure or TDEE. If the amount of calories we eat in a certain day is below our TDEE, we lose weight (this weight is not necessarily fat all the time). If the amount of calories we eat is equal to our TDEE, our weight stays the same. If the amount of calories we eat is greater than our TDEE, we gain weight (as stated before, this weight is not necessarily fat all the time - it could be muscle). Many people skip this important fundamental and look at the type of food they are eating or several other factors before they investigate how many calories they are eating per day and how to adjust their amount of calories consumed to achieve their goals.
Fat holds 9 calories per gram, while carbohydrates and protein hold only 4 calories per gram. This means that eating fat (any type of fat, even the good kind) will result in a greater number of calories consumed. Therefore, it's more likely that you're going to go over your TDEE and gain weight, especially if much of your diet comes from fattening foods. In addition to this, fat is very similar chemically to the fat that your body stores. This makes it easy for your body to store consumed fat as fat (adipose tissue), but you must take into consideration that storing fat (consumed) as fat (adipose tissue) is not the only thing your body does with fat (consumed).
-The Optimal Levels of Fat
You're going to want to eat part of your calories from fat to get their many benefits, but not go too high. Like anything else in the world of nutrition and fitness, there are many opinions on what the optimal levels of fat in the diet are. For instance, advocates of low-fat diets opt for absolutely no fat and believe that fat is what makes us fat. However, there is a flaw in this belief as they are also cutting out the good, numerously beneficial fats. Then there are high fat diets, such as diets suggesting low carbs (they usually say you can eat all the fat and protein you want). Although, it is generally accepted to consume between 15% - 25% of your calories from fat while severely limiting the amount of trans fats and watching the amount of saturated fat that you consume.
-Some Easy Ways to Add Fat Into Your Diet
Now you may be wondering how you're going to add some of these healthy fats into your diet. There are actually some really easy ways to do so. If you eat salads, you can add about a tablespoon of olive or canola oil. In my experience, you usually cannot even taste these added oils. If you buy some flax seed and grind it, you can add it to almost any food. Once again, these flax seeds are mostly tasteless. Really, adding these healthy nutrients into your diet isn't that big of a burden.
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace medical advice from a physician or your health care provider.
Nathan Latvaitis: An avid fitness researcher - helping other people realize their goals through knowledge. Nathan runs a fitness website at http://www.weight-loss-resources.com where you can find more weight loss tips, articles, calculators, reviews, a message board, and more.