What Makes "Healthy Fats" Healthy?
Fats have been one of the most misunderstood and maligned macronutrients, going through a seemingly unending cycle of being deemed “unhealthy” for a while only to be granted acceptance as a “healthy” nutrient a short while later. This pattern repeats itself over and over and over again.
Currently, fats are en vogue and carbohydrates are being shunned en masse by self-proclaimed gurus, influencers, and podcasters.
The reality is that fats, just like protein and carbohydrates, can be healthy, and they are also essential, meaning your body cannot survive without them. Fats are required for the absorption of certain key vitamins (A, D, E & K), and they play a critical role in cell membranes.
So what makes a “healthy fat” healthy?
Well, it begins with the mixture of fatty acids that a particular food or oil contains. The predominant type of fat contained in the food is what typically classifies it as more healthy or less healthy.
The different types of fat you’ll encounter in foods/oils are:
- Monounsaturated fat (e.g. olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, etc.)
- Polyunsaturated fat (e.g. omega-3, omega-6, etc.)
- Saturated fat (e.g. butter, lard, beef tallow, etc.)
- Trans fat (e.g. partially hydrogenated oils)
Ideally, you want a balance of monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and saturated fats. It’s true that saturated fats have been demonized over the course of the past 100 years and blamed as the cause of cardiovascular disease, but newer research is showing that saturated fat intake is not associated with coronary heart disease nor stroke mortality nor myocardial infarction.
Despite the on-going debate about the healthiness of saturated fat, one fat that is almost universally panned by researchers is man-made trans fats like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, which are typically added to packaged and processed goods (cookies, candy, baked treats, microwave popcorn, etc.).
The reason trans fats are considered harmful is that they increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and decrease HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and they are also linked to increase systemic inflammation.
Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, on the other hand, have been shown to improve cholesterol profiles and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease.
Current recommendations per the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends getting no more than 10% of your total daily calories from saturated fat and that total fat consumption to no more than 25-30% of daily calories.
The American Heart Association suggests that 8-10% of daily calories should come from polyunsaturated fats.
Fat is a necessary macronutrient required for optimal health and daily functioning. Consuming too much fat is not healthy, even if you’re consuming only “good” sources of fat. Excess calorie intake leads to weight gain, which is known to lead to deleterious health outcomes.
Regarding whether you should consume a lower fat or higher fat diet, that is up to you. Experiment with both types of eating and see how your body responds -- performance in the gym, mood, focus, mental clarity, daily activities, etc.
The best sources of dietary fat include:
- Fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.)
- Olives and olive oil
- Nuts (almonds, cashews, pecans, etc.)
- Seeds (sunflower, flax, hemp, etc.)
- Red meat
Including an optimal amount of healthy fats in your diet is not only essential for cardiovascular health and a myriad of other necessary biological functions but dietary fats also play an utterly essential role in hormone production, including testosterone. Optimize your hormone profile with AlphaMax, and of course a well structured diet that includes healthy fats, for increased strength, muscle mass, and overall wellbeing.
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- Nettleton JA, Brouwer IA, Geleijnse JM, Hornstra G. Saturated Fat Consumption and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease and Ischemic Stroke: A Science Update. Ann Nutr Metab. 2017;70(1):26-33. doi: 10.1159/000455681. Epub 2017 Jan 27. PMID: 28125802; PMCID: PMC5475232.
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