Nutrition FAQs: What are fats?
Angela Wright, RHN
When it comes to nutrition, there's a lot of noise out there. When there is so much information to sift through, we often go for the shortcuts. We cut out what we're told is "bad" for us and load up on what we're told is "good," without looking further into what that means. We want you to be able to make lifestyle decisions based on knowledge and confidence, not pressure! So starting this week, follow along with us to learn about an often villainized food group, fats. What are they, what is their role in the body, and how can they help you live your healthy best?
Q: What’s the deal with fats? What do I need them for?
A: Fats are super important for your health and happiness! Fatty acids (what we commonly refer to as fats) are one of the three macronutrients that the body needs to ingest in order to properly function. For instance, every one of our trillions of cells require fats as an integral part of the cell membrane. The right fats let nutrients in and wastes out of the cell. They are also required for proper communication between cells. We make over 200 billion new replacement cells every day, all of which require healthy fats to make their membranes super functional. That’s just one of their many roles. The body requires them for manufacturing sex and stress hormones, maintaining your brain, regulating blood sugar and pain response, immune system functioning, controlling inflammation and carrying fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K. They are also an excellent energy source, once you’ve used up your carbohydrates.
Q: What are food sources of fats that are good for me? Which ones should I avoid eating?
A: A good rule of thumb is to eat happy, healthy whole foods that naturally contain fat. Plant foods like nuts (including coconut), seeds and avocados are excellent sources. If you partake in animal foods, remember that animals are made of what they ate, just like us! Animals eating their natural diet will be a source of healthy fats. Wild, free range or grass fed meat, dairy, eggs and fish can all provide excellent fats for your body. Extracted oils or fats like flax oil, walnut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, tallow or lard can all be beneficial to add to meals or cooking. Keep in mind that they can handle different cooking temperatures, though. Avoid altered fats in any form. Trans, modified, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats don’t fulfill the jobs the same in our cells. Avoid damaged fats - read your food labels carefully. Heat, light and oxygen can cause damage, depending on the fat’s molecular structure. Overheating, storing in clear bottles, and just being around for too long can cause good fats to go bad. Use and store your extracted fats and oils properly.