One of our essential major nutrients is fat, and omega fatty acids are the building blocks of fat. I know fat has gotten a bad reputation (looking at you,1980’s), but it is time for a software upgrade when it comes to how we think about fat and how we eat fat. First and foremost, not all fat is created equal. We have healthy fats and unhealthy fats.
Why do we even need fat in the first place?
Fat works in a lot of important ways in our bodies. For one, it is the body’s preferred source of energy to keep your bodily functions working healthfully like your heart beating, your lungs breathing, and fingers social-media-scrolling, that is all fueled by fat. Because fat is what we use as energy it helps to boost metabolic health and break down stored fat to use as energy. Which means eating fat actually helps us burn fat. Fat is also necessary to absorb fat soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, which play crucial roles in our health like a strong immunity and health hormone function. And, adding fat to our meals actually improves our satiety leaving us way more satiated.
The Fats to Avoid
You always want to avoid trans fats, they promote heart disease and inflammation. Make sure you read nutrition labels and confirm that it says 0 grams trans-fat and that there are no hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list. Also, skip processed vegetable oils like canola, sunflower, and safflower. You also want to limit your intake of saturated fat found in red meat, butter, and coconut oil.
The Healthy Fats
So now that we know why we need them, let’s talk about the ones that actually give us all those above benefits. Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids are unsaturated forms of fat, which is the science language of saying “the healthy fats.” Unsaturated fats are referred to as the healthy fats because they have been known to actually help lower cholesterol, improve heart health, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies have also linked the healthy fats to improving mental cognition. Choose foods high in the healthy fats like fish, olive oil, avocado, and hemp hearts (or shelled hemp seeds). Hemp hearts will actually give you 25% more healthy fats than flax seeds, plus they add a rich nutty taste to your dish. Sprinkle hemp hearts onto your avocado toast, toss them into your salads and stir-fries, use hemp oil for your salad dressings, and pair some Hemp Yeah! granola with a Greek yogurt for a snack.
About Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN: Brigitte loves food and in her private practice she creates a plan for each client that combines the foods they love with their health and wellness goals. She practices a holistic and integrative nutrition approach and specializes in digestive/gut health, women’s nutrition, heart health, and general well-being and weight loss.