So what are the good kinds of fat? There are two principle kinds, and they are called the "essential fatty acids" because your body cannot produce them by itself. One is termed linoleic acid (LA) and the other is alpha-linolenic acid (LNA). LA is known as an "omega-6" fatty acid, while LNA is dubbed an "omega-3" fatty acid. Of these, the omega-3's remain deficient in most American diets. That's a problem, because the body uses omega-3's to create the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, which carry the most heart-healthy and disease-fighting benefits. Omega-3's are prominent in flax and hemp oils, although the conversion to EPA and DHA is sometimes limited, so the best source is oily fish such as salmon, trout and mackerel. An Omega-3 supplement such as the high potency
Omega 1250 by ProSource, would also shore up any deficiencies. Some favorable effects of these fatty acids include cholesterol and body fat reduction, preventing muscle breakdown, and treating inflammatory conditions. Omega-3's in particular have been shown to decrease inflammatory conditions in your heart's arteries and limit the buildup of plaque in these vessels. A better ticker, quicker recovery from workouts, decreased inflammation? Hard to find fault in Omega-3's.
The problem is, they are not easy to come by, especially from our heavily processed food supply. Processed foods often contain trans-fatty acids, which are responsible for the more, shall we say, horrific qualities of fat that include increasing your chance of disease. Many of the
essential fatty acids are found in fish oils and have been shown to promote increases in muscle while simultaneously reducing fat. Try eating the above mentioned oily fish a few times a week, and also consider an omega-3 supplement. Taking a supplement is not only convenient, it also assures that you're getting the dose of omega-3's that can ultimately convert to EPA and DHA. A good supplement should provide 1-2 grams of omega-3's, taken daily.
You can also obtain omega-3's from other dietary sources, although the conversion to the essential fatty acids - the ones with all the benefits - isn't as strong as when you eat oily fish or take a quality supplement. Nevertheless, find room in your diet to snack on walnuts, and use flaxseed and canola oils for cooking or as a dressing.
At one time, trans fatty acids, also going by the alias of "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" fats, were the darling of the food industry. Invented around the turn of the last century, they provided convenience and taste. First marketed as "Crisco," this type of fat was created by the unnatural marriage of hydrogen and liquid fat. Scientists found that hydrogenating fat led to higher cooking temperatures, longer shelf life and allowed fat to remain solid at room temperature. The invention spawned new versions of foods impossible without hydrogenated oils, among them the donut, the French fry and oleomargarine. When food industrialists realized that cheap, abundant corn oil and other vegetable fats could be treated chemically to remain solid at room temperature and retard spoilage, they recognized the benefits immediately. Trans fats do occur in miniscule amounts in nature, but the kind we have eaten since the 1920s are an artificially concocted paste.
Get this: while heart attacks caused by arterial blockage were relatively rare around the turn of the 20th century (ranking just below diarrhea as a cause of death), animal fat in the diet was high. Most of the fat Americans consumed at that time was naturally occurring animal fat. However, between 1909 and 1972, consumption of animal fats actually decreased while consumption of vegetable fats nearly tripled. By 1972, despite lowered animal fat consumption, heart disease was labeled our leading cause of death. Upon closer inspection, it was the introduction of trans fats that likely led to the disturbing upsurge in heart attacks.
Now, nearly every reputable health source believes the artificially created trans fats are deadly. Known as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats on labeling, a Harvard review in 1994 suggested trans fats cause 30,000 deaths a year in the United States by contributing to heart disease. They are also associated with cancers.
At first, consumer advocates thought trans fats were a good idea. The selling point was that by using them, we would potentially cut back on animal fats. When trans fats were just coming into their own, we were not fully aware how absolutely toxic they were. Now we know to avoid them at all costs, and you should too. Look for "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" on food labels and eliminate them from your diet. Stay away from deep fried foods at restaurants, and beware of processed food such as cookies and cakes.
Remember, labels on processed foods may say "zero trans fat" but still mislead. The law says that if a single serving contains .5 g or less, it can list as "zero." So if a serving consists of one cookie containing .5 g of trans fat and you eat three cookies, you just swallowed a gram and a half of grease.
These are usually fats derived from plant sources. They are in the form of mono-unsaturated (olive oil, for example) and poly-unsaturated fats (such as canola, soy or corn oil). The essential fatty acids actually fall under the poly-unsaturated category, although to guarantee you ingest them it's better to obtain them from the direct sources listed above. Some scientists believe unsaturated fats actually improve heart health by increasing the level of so-called good cholesterol in the blood. Although they are not deemed as important or effective as the "more direct" essential fatty acids, they have a place in most diets.
Saturated fats are typically associated with fat from animal sources such as meat, cheese or milk. Some scientists believe eating too much of these kinds of fats contribute to heart disease and other illnesses. We have long been told that there is a connection between animal fats and many diseases - notably heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. There is speculation that the prejudice against animal fat or saturated fats was actually initiated by the food industry to make the chemically produced trans fats more appealing to consumers. Saturated fats, while accused of association with atherosclerosis or heart disease, do indeed have their own set of health benefits. Some health advocates and nutritionists tell us to avoid saturated fats, but others say they are good for us. We can assume the answer is somewhere in between. You certainly don't want to overload your diet with heavy animal fats, not just to avoid potential health risks, but also to avoid undue weight and fat gains. You don't want to eliminate them either.
Many meats and dairy products, which contain saturated fats, also contain healthy levels of the proteins and amino acids that contribute to recovery and muscle growth.
For anyone attempting to
shed fat or
gain muscle (or both), a diet with a
healthy amount of fat (the right kinds, of course) is actually more ideal than a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. Recent research has indicated, for example, that switching from a high fat diet (40% of calories) to a diet that consisted of 25% of calories from fat actually resulted in weight and fat gains. Several studies have confirmed this, and the consensus appears to be that a diet with 30% fat is recommended for achieving an optimal weight. From this 30% recommendation, we follow the one-third rule. Specifically, one-third of your fat intake should come from unprocessed polyunsaturated fats. These include flax oil, hemp oil, and
fish oils/capsules. This is where you will also obtain the heart-healthy, disease-fighting essential fatty acids. Another one-third should come from monounsaturated fats (e.g., olive oil, avocados). The final third will be made up of saturated fats, which are found in products such as red meat and whole milk.
Fats to avoid or severely limit include processed vegetable oils, margarine, fried foods, and anything with "partially hydrogenated" on the label. The aforementioned
"good" fats such as flax oil and olive oil can be found in health food stores and mixed into food or protein drinks.