Essential fats are healthy!
Many people tend to relate fat to so-called ‘unhealthy’ foods like fried and greasy fast foods. Such fast foods indeed contain lots of fats, which are mostly saturated fats and trans-fat. Saturated fat is one type of fat, mostly from animal sources, and this kind of fat is normally considered to be ‘unhealthy’. Trans-fat is artificially formed through industrial processing, for the purpose of increasing food shelf life. Since trans fats are considered to be a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, FDA banned trans-fat in all U.S. food in 2015 and gave food-makers until June 18, 2018 to eliminate it from the food supply. More than 80% of trans fats in the food supply came from partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in shortenings, snack foods, fried foods and baked goods. However, there is no need to feel afraid to consume fats because of saturated fat and trans-fat! There are other ‘healthy’ fats that are essential to keep your body in good condition.
Fat plays a significant role in protecting our bodies by insulating and functioning like ‘cushions’ to our bones and organs, as well as preserving energy for times of food shortage. Fat is also a carrier of fat-soluble vitamins A, K, E, and D. If a person does not consume enough fat, then no matter how much fat-soluble vitamins the person takes, those vitamins are not going to be properly absorbed into the body.
Among the various types of fat, what you want to focus on is unsaturated fats, which can be divided into two subgroups; monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Unlike saturated fats, which are mostly from animal sources, unsaturated fats are mostly plant-based and stay as a liquid form at room temperature. The most common unsaturated fats are plant or nut oils such as olive oils, canola oils, sunflower oils, and safflower oils.
One question might pop up in your mind; then what is the difference between monosaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat? The answer is simple: the chemical structure. While monounsaturated fat has only one double bond in its chemical structure, polyunsaturated fat has more than two double bonds in its chemical structure. Monounsaturated fats are commonly found in nuts and plant oils like olive oils. Polyunsaturated fat is again categorized into two types; omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are especially important since these are ‘essential fatty acids’. Humans must consume these fats through diet because they are required for biological processes but they cannot be made in your body. Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in nuts and seeds such as walnuts, flaxseed, chia, plant oils such as soybean oil, flaxseed oil and canola oil, fortified foods like some brands of eggs, margarines, juices, milks, soy beverages, and yogurts as well as in fatty fish for example salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, arctic char and trout. The main food sources of omega-6 fatty acids are vegetable oils such as avocado, soybean, corn, safflower and sunflower oils, nuts especially walnuts and seeds like pumpkin and sunflower seeds.
Nicole Maslar RDN, LDN
*Researched and written in conjunction with UMASS Nutrition & Dietetic student Nina Seo
Insel.P., Ross. D., McMahon.K., and Berstein.M. Nutrition 6th edition, Johns & Barlett Learning(2017) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/trans-fat/art-20046114
Here are two recipes to help you start to incorporate healthy fats into your diet!
Cucumber Tomato Avocado Salad, drizzled with olive oil
(serves 4 as a side salad)
-This recipe incorporates mainly omega-6 fatty acids (avocado), along with monounsaturated fat (olive oil). You can add a source of protein to make it a meal, maybe fish to increase the omega-3 benefit!
1lb Roma tomatoes (or cherry tomatoes)
1 English cucumber
2 avocados diced
½ medium red onion, sliced
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
¼ cup (= ½ bunch of) cilantro, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1) Place chopped tomatoes, cucumbers, cilantro, sliced red onions, and diced avocado into a salad bowl.
2) Drizzle with 2 Tbsp olive oil and 2 Tbsp lemon juice. Gently mix the salad
3) Before serving the salad, toss with 1 tsp sea salt, and 1/8 tsp black pepper
-This recipe incorporates mainly omega-3 fatty acids (salmon and almond), along with monounsaturated fat (olive oil). For side veggies, you can cook any veggies you want, so be creative!
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 pinch salt and ground black pepper
8 oz. wild salmon fillets
½ tsp Himalayan salt to taste
½ finely crushed almonds
1) Preheat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a baking pan with 1 Tbsp olive oil.
2) Brush salmon fillets with 1 tsp lemon juice. Sprinkle with Himalayan salt and black pepper. Cover top and sides of salmon with almonds
4) Place salmon skin-side down in the prepared baking pan. Press gently to adhere.
5) Bake in the oven until salmon flakes easily with for about 15 minutes.