Despite the negative connotation attached to fats, not all fats are bad. In fact, our body needs them to carry out some crucial functions. We need them for some vital functions like the absorption of nutrients and the transmission of nerve impulses.
The lipid molecules are also required to build and maintain the cell membrane. About 60% of the human brain is composed of fats, and fats help maintain skin elasticity and eye functions. These macronutrients are also required to maintain heart rhythm.
Fats That are Beneficial for You
The term 'good fat' is mainly used to refer to the unsaturated fatty acids, which are classified as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. These healthy fats are not only required for maintaining the vital functions of the body, but they can also lower the risks of several serious health conditions. Both mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids and their importance are explained below.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are liquid at room temperature, and they can be found in plant oils. The most important sources of these fatty acids are, olive oil, peanut oil, and canola oil. Apart from plant oils, they can be found in nuts, such as almonds, peanuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pecans. Avocados, pumpkin seeds, and sesame are some other good sources of monounsaturated fatty acids. These healthy fats can help lower the level of total, as well as the bad LDL cholesterol in the body. They can also increase the level of HDL cholesterol, which is good for the health of the heart and the cardiovascular system. Monounsaturated fatty acids are prized for their ability to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
These are liquid at room temperature, and also at low temperature. This family of unsaturated fatty acids includes omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. The main sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids are flaxseed and flaxseed oil, corn, sunflower, soybeans, safflower oil, sunflower oil, walnuts, and fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, tuna, and trout. Fish are the most important dietary sources of omega-3 essential fatty acids. There are mainly three types of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known as alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids are known to lower the level of LDL cholesterol, prevent inflammation, and maintain a healthy nervous system.
Omega-6 fatty acids are another family of unsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids can be found in corn oil, safflower oil, wheat germ oil, sesame oil, and almond and walnut oil. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of maintaining a balance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the diet. This is because, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids have been observed to work in opposite direction. Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, while omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. Therefore, a right balance between the two is required for maintaining the health of the heart, joints, and the skin.
Fats That are Harmful for You
The fats that are considered to be harmful are saturated and trans fats. They are known to raise the risk of heart and cardiovascular diseases by increasing the level of LDL cholesterol in the body. The most common sources of these harmful fatty acids are animal fats, excepting fish oil. Beef, pork, lamb, chicken, as well as whole milk dairy products like cream and butter, also contain saturated fatty acids. However, low fat dairy products are regarded as healthy, and so, they need not be avoided altogether. Other sources of saturated fatty acids are coconut oil and palm oil. On the other hand, trans fats are created by the hydrogenation of fats or vegetable oils. These can be mainly found in baked goods, processed and fried foods, cookies, candies, and vegetable shortenings.
Now that you know the sources of healthy fats, you can include them in your diet with the assurance that they are going to promote your health. However, keep in mind that you are not supposed to get more than 30% of your total daily calories from fats.