Despite what decades of nutrition advice once advised, healthy fats do not make you fat. In fact, quite the opposite. They are essential for skin, hair, heart, and brain health. Moreover, they are necessary for balanced hormones, a healthy metabolism, feeling satiated, optimal energy, smooth digestion, and lowering inflammation within the body.
First things first, it is important to understand the differences between unhealthy and healthy fats. There are three types of fats: unsaturated, saturated, and trans fats. Each is composed of different molecular structures and affects the body differently. For the sake of simplicity, unsaturated and saturated fats are the “good” fats, while trans fats are the bad. Unsaturated (including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) fats are often derived from plant sources and some animal sources and their fatty acids are extremely beneficial. Saturated fats are primarily derived from animal sources. Although once deemed as unhealthy, there are many studies that now support the health benefits of them. Trans fats are industrially produced and they can be found in snack foods, packaged baked goods, margarines, and other processed foods.
Every cell in our body has a lipid layer and therefore, requires fats to function optimally. Fat is necessary for the permeability of our cells, and for proper excretion of toxins and absorption of nutrients. It also is needed for cell growth, repair, and turnover.
Of the many benefits of fats, most notable are their effects on brain function, which makes sense considering our brains are made up of 60% fat. Healthy fats are essential building blocks for the brain, and they are necessary for learning and memory.
Fat also happens to be a beautifying food. Supple skin and glossy hair are created from the inside-out and they are a reflection of a healthy and well balanced diet. Consuming a diet rich in healthy fats can help to moisturize the skin and reduce inflammatory skin issues such as eczema, acne, and rosacea. The shine in your mane is largely due to fatty oils being released through glands in the scalp. It all starts on the inside.
The consumption of fats is necessary for the absorption of many “beautifying” vitamins that are fat soluble, such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Moreover, fat provides satiety, because leptin, the hormone in your brain, is triggered by fat. It tells you that you are full and helps you to feel satisfied for a longer period of time, which is essential to prevent overeating.
You may be wondering how we became so “fat-phobic”. This fear was created and encouraged by major food industries who had much to gain from shifting the blame from sugar onto fats. Multiple print ads, commercials, and food labels have blatantly been promoting fat free, reduced fat, and low-fat products for years. I advise you to actually avoid anything that is altered to be “low fat”. Choose products that contain full fat in its purest form without any fake ingredients added to enhance the taste of the missing fat.
There are some signs to look for that may signal you're not consuming enough fats. As mentioned, fat is a beauty food, and hair issues (i.e. dryness or lack of), skin issues (i.e. dermatitis, dryness, scaling, itchy or tiny bumps on the back of your arms), or nail issues (i.e. soft, brittle, cracking) may be messengers from your body that your diet is lacking healthy fats. Other serious signs of fat deprivation include stiff joints, muscle pain, a weakened immune system, infertility, and depression.
The key to a healthy diet is variety and this holds true when choosing which fats to consume. Include a serving of fat with every meal, whether you choose plant based, animal based sources, or both. You may wish to add in an omega 3 supplement if your diet is lacking, and you can discuss this with your health practitioner.
Below is a list of healthy fats to try and incorporate into your diet.
Plant Based Sources
Avocado and avocado oil
Seeds (eg. pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, chia, flax seeds)
Seed Butters (eg. tahini, pumpkin seed butter)
Nuts (eg. walnuts, macadamia, almonds, brazil nuts)
Nut Butters (eg. almond, cashew, hazelnut)
Olives and extra virgin olive oil
Coconut, coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut yogurt
Animal Based Sources
Fish (eg. salmon, mackerel, sardines)
Grass fed butter
Fish oil, Krill oil, Cod liver oil
Full fat dairy
Sheep and Goats cheeses and yogurts
Avoid Processed Industrialized Oils
Omega 6 seed oils (eg. corn, soybean, sunflower, canola, safflower, cotton seed, grapeseed, rice bran, rapeseed)
Vegetable oils (eg. margarine, canola)
Your body needs fats to thrive, and it will thank you for the rich source of nourishment. Hopefully this article helps to remove any doubts or fears you may have regarding the consumption of healthy fats, while encouraging you to read labels and to educate yourself on nutrition outside of mainstream fads.
Image credit: @fahimkassam