The subject of fats can be incredibly confusing. We hear good, bad, trans, mono – how do we make sense of it all?
Luckily, our nutritionist Nereda Merrin has done that for us. Here is the definitive guide to our favourites, the Good Fats.
Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated fats
Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. They differ from saturated fats by having fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains. Healthy fats are liquid at room temperature, not solid. There are two broad categories of beneficial fats: monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Good sources of monounsaturated fats are olive oil, peanut oil, canola oil, avocados, and most nuts, as well as high-oleic safflower and sunflower oils.
The discovery that monounsaturated fat could be healthful came from the Seven Countries Study during the 1960s. It revealed that people in Greece and other parts of the Mediterranean region enjoyed a low rate of heart disease despite a high-fat diet. The main fat in their diet, though, was not the saturated animal fat common in countries with higher rates of heart disease. It was olive oil, which contains mainly monounsaturated fat. This finding produced a surge of interest in olive oil and the “Mediterranean diet,” a style of eating regarded as a healthful choice today.
Of all the monounsaturated oils, olive oil is the most nourishing for you due to its high antioxidant content and its higher monounsaturated content (73%).
Despite what has been written about olive oil and cooking please note the following;
- It is largely resistant to heat damage due to its mostly monounsaturated fatty acid content
- It has a high smoke point at 190 – 207C which makes it suitable for most cooking methods including pan frying.
When you pour liquid cooking oil into a pan, there’s a good chance you’re using polyunsaturated fat. Corn oil, sunflower oil, and safflower oil are common examples.
Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats. That means they’re required for normal body functions but your body can’t make them. So you must get them from food. Polyunsaturated fats are used to build cell membranes and the covering of nerves. They are needed for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation.
There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats: omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids. Both types offer health benefits.
Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves your cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines, flaxseeds, walnuts, canola oil, and unhydrogenated soybean oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids may help prevent and even treat heart disease and stroke. In addition to reducing blood pressure, raising HDL, and lowering triglycerides, polyunsaturated fats may help prevent lethal heart rhythms from arising. Evidence also suggests they may help reduce the need for corticosteroid medications in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Omega-6 fatty acids have also been linked to protection against heart disease. Foods rich in linoleic acid and other omega-6 fatty acids include vegetable oils such as safflower, soybean, sunflower, walnut, and corn oils.