Dietary fats provide energy, manufacture and balance hormones, form cell membranes, forms our brains and nervous systems, and transports fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), reduce inflammation, protect cells, and promote weight loss. However, Not all fats are created equal, instead of good & bad, I like to think of them as good, better, and toxic. Here’s the difference.
EFAs – The Omegas
Essential Fats, often called essential fatty acids or EFAs are broken down into 3 classifications, but only two of them are really essential, Omega 3 and Omega 6. The third, Omega 9 can be made in your body from Omegas 3 and 6. Focus on Omega 3 consumption as they are usually the more difficult/uncommon to get form food.
* Tip: A healthy balance of 1:1 or even a bit higher in Omega 3s is recommended. Fatty fish is a great source.
Omega-3 - Includes beneficial fatty acids EPA, DHA and a-linolenic acid. Essential, required from food. Richest sources: herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon, chia seeds, flax seeds and microalgae.
Omega-6 - Includes the essential Linoleic fatty acid and arachidonic acid. Essential, required from food. Richest sources: avocado, durum wheat, flaxseed oil, hemp oil, soybean oil, acai berry, cashews.
Omega-9 - Includes Oleic acid, erucic acid, elaidic acid, eicosenoic acid, mead acid and nervonic acid. Made in the body, not essential. Richest Sources: olive oil, rapeseed oil, mustard seed.
Fats are also classified by their saturation, saturated, monounsaturated, or polyunsaturated, and partially hydrogenated (a type of trans-fat). Partially hydrogenated oils, these are now known to be toxic and as of June 2018 are against the law to include in foods (FDA 2018). Food makers have up to 3 years to remove them entirely. Not all trans fats can be removed as some occur naturally in meat and dairy products, these natural trans-fats have different chemical structures than manufactured trans-fats and also contain CLA, a type of Omega 6 (above). CLA is said to have anti-inflammatory, cancer preventing, and weight loss promoting benefits.
* Tip: Focus on unsaturated fats (mono or poly) making those higher in Omega 3 a priority
*Note: Grass fed meat and dairy products have higher levels of CLA (an Omega 6 essential fat) than grain fed.
Saturated - Solid at room temperature. Found in: beef, pork, coconut, avocado, palm oil, dairy products. Eat in moderation, contain beneficial CLA’s, MCT’s and Omega 6.
Monounsaturated - Liquid at room temperature, become solid when chilled. Found in: avocados, olives, olive oil, nuts, sunflower oil, seeds, halibut, sablefish, mackerel, vegetables high in oleic acid. Packed with Omegas 3 & 6, eat these daily.
Polyunsaturated - Liquid at room temperature and when chilled. Found in: salmon sardines, mackerel, herring, trout, fresh tuna, flax seed (&oil), walnuts, soybean oil. Packed with Omegas 3 & 6. Higher concentration of Omega 3s.
Partially Hydrogenated - Most liquid at room temperature, but have added hydrogen bonds to make them shelf stable. Found in: processed foods, margarine, candy, chips, soda, some pastries, some peanut butters. Toxic, do not eat. Check labels for “partially hydrogenated”.
Chain Length – (MCT vs LCT)
Most fats (fatty acids) are considered long-chain, there are a specific few that are considered medium-chain and have gained in popularity among low carbohydrate eaters and those looking to lose body fat. Medium-chained fats (or triglycerides) are known as MCTs.
MCTs bypass the digestion/breakdown process and go straight to your liver for use as energy, therefor avoiding the potential for extra storage like LCTs. MCTs are difficult to find in foods as they are usually combined with LCTs. Highest sources of MCT from foods are coconut and palm oils or a specifically curated MCT oil, usually derived from coconut with LCTs removed.
* Hint: Perhaps you’ve seen a coffee recipe with coconut oil or MCT oil, now you know why!
CHEAT SHEET –
*Look for Healthy Omega 3 fat sources first, Omega 6 fat sources second. Animal products contain Omega 6 already, so most of us get those.
*Avoid any partially hydrogenated oil or anything made with it, it is toxic.
*Eat saturated fats in moderation, choose grass fed meat and dairy products and free range organic poultry because of the higher quality of fat.
*Supplement with MCT oil for sustained energy, particularly during periods of fasting or carbohydrate restriction, MCTs are not stored, they are used immediately for sustained energy.