What is a Healthy Fat?

What is a Fat?

Fats are organic molecules made up of carbon and hydrogen, called hydrocarbons.  Fats play an huge role in the body as great energy sources (significantly larger energy output per molecule than carb or protein).  They also manufacture and balance our hormones, form our cell membranes, form our brains, and our nervous system. Without adequate sources of fats in our diet, some of the most necessary bodily functions will be hindered.

If we are deficient in fat then we could experience cognitive/brain development problems, vision impairment, skin problems, and delayed healing.  There have also been links shown between fat deficiency and increase potential for depression.

Additionally, as an added bonus, you will consume less over all because fat helps us feel full longer and it takes more energy (aka calories) to break down a molecule of fat than it does a molecule of protein or carbohydrate yet you get more net energy.  The gain is more calories burned and more resulting energy. Win win!

Types of Fat

There are 3 types of dietary fat: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

Saturated fats are when carbons are “saturated” with lots of hydrogens and there are no double bonds between carbon molecules.  Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are present in animal meat and tropical oils (e.g. coconut oil).

Unsaturated fats are when carbons have one or more double bonds between them which means less hydrogens stuck to them.  A monounsaturated is when there is 1 carbon pair double bonded together and a polyunsaturated is when there are more than 1 carbon pairs double bonded together.  These fats are typically more liquid at room temperature. Items such as olive oil, fat found in avocados and nuts are monounsaturated fats. Items such as fish oil, flax, and fats found in seeds are polyunsaturated.

What is an Unhealthy Fat?

Hydrogenated fats are artificially saturated fats.  These are fats where hydrogen has been manually added to the hydrocarbon chain turning a normally liquid and perishable fat into a solid fat with a longer shelf life (good for the bottom line but not our health).  This includes margarine, soybean oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, corn oil, etc.

Why is hydrogenation bad? Because it allows fat molecule chains to not have double bonds of carbon.  These double bonds cause the chain to have a kink (aka not be a straight line chain).  This lack of “kink” allows that chains to compact into our cell membranes really really tightly. This can mean an increased risk of heart disease, cancer, and other chronic disease due to stiff cells.

Trans Fats.  They are no bueno.  They are hydrogenated and additionally processed.  Diets high in trans fats have been associated with higher risks of alzheimer’s disease, lymphoma, and heart disease.  Trans fats have also been shown to increase the bad form of cholesterol while simultaneously decreasing the good form. The National Academy of Science concluded in 2002 that there is no safe or tolerable level of trans fat consumption because any incremental increase in trans fat intake increases the risk of heart disease.

Basically,trans fats are never considered healthy and should be avoided.  The good news is that when consuming a diet based on natural, unprocessed, whole foods it is almost impossible to consume harmful amounts of trans fats.

What is a “healthy” fat?

Typically, unsaturated fats are considered “healthy.  For example, monounsaturated fats are thought to increase HDL cholesterol (aka the “good” cholesterol) and decrease LDL cholesterol (aka the “bad” cholesterol), however research is still determining if that is a fact.

However you do need a diet balanced in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats.  

Sometimes saturated fat gets a bad rap but it is actually really good for you if it is consumed via whole foods (unrefined tropical oils or pasture-raised meat and dairy) in a diet that is low in refined carbohydrates and high in unsaturated fats.  The problem is refined carbohydrates and sugars are a big part of the North American food supply and unsaturated fats are not. When refined carbs and sugars are mixed with saturated fats the outcome is not ideal.  Even more so when you add on a low unsaturated fat intake volume. However, most people tend to blame the fat when it is the refined carbs and sugars that are the bad guy.

So what is a “healthy fat”?  It is the balance of saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats originating from unprocessed whole food sources and the near elimination of trans fats.

Omega-3s and Omega-6s

You have probably seen these two guys a lot lately if you read anything about nutrition.  They are both are polyunsaturated fats and both are “essential” because they are necessary to life and health but we cannot make them in our bodies.  We must get them from our diet.

However they do play different roles in the body.  Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory benefits and help prevent heart disease.  Omega-6s lower blood cholesterol and supports your skin.

Our body needs to consume these two fat types in balance.  Ideally a 2 or 3 to 1 ratio of O-6 to O-3. Without proper balance a number of health issues can occur.  The problem is that modern industrialized diets cause a massive imbalance in favor of O-6. In the range of 10:1.  No bueno.

Fix? Take a fish oil supplement or include some of the following O-3 fats into your diet:

  • Tuna
  • Cod
  • Halibut
  • Herring
  • Mackerel
  • Trout
  • Salmon
  • Sardines

Items that include O-6 include:

  • Sunflower seeds
  • Seed oils
  • Corn
  • Pumpkin Seeds,
  • Sesame Seeds
  • Nuts
  • Meat
  • Dairy Products

So how much Fat do you need?

Although everyone is different the average female needs approximately 4 to 6 servings (35-72g)  a day and the average male between 6 and 8 (65-96g) per day. This number is an approximation because it can increase or decrease based on body size, shape, age, fitness level, goals, external stressors, dietary habits, etc.

List of Fat Sources (not exhaustive):

  • Almond Butter
  • Avocado
  • Avocado Oil
  • Cashews
  • Chopped Almonds
  • Coconut
  • Coconut Oil
  • Fish Oil
  • Hazelnut Oil
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Krill Oil
  • Macadamia Nut Oil
  • Nuts/Seeds (no peanuts)
  • Olive Oil
  • Olives
  • Pecans
  • Pumpkin Seeds
  • Sesame Oil
  • Sesame Butter
  • Sunflower Seeds
  • Tallow
  • Walnut Oil
  • Walnuts
  • Grape Seed Oil
  • Ghee

Fish Oil Supplement

Supplementing with algae oil or fish oil daily is highly recommended.  It is a quality source of fat, it is a quality source of O-3 (getting your ratio closer in balance), and it can help slightly curb appetite.  

Approx. 1-2g of algae oil or 3-6g of fish oil each day will suffice.

No all supplements are created equal.so make sure you get a high quality fish oil.  .

  • Check the expiration date to make sure you can finish the bottle before it expires
  • Look up oxidation values from third party testers or in-house reports.  More oxidation equals lower quality. Look for numbers at or below PV ≤ 10 meq/kg, AV ≤ 20 and TOTOX ≤ 30
  • Buy smaller bottles so you can finish them sooner after opening, which means less oxidation.
  • Keep your fish oil in the fridge and use within 40-days.  If need longer, it can last in the freezer for up to 120 days.
  • Also, look for small-fish based formulations (herring, mackerel) because they are less likely to consume environmental toxins which will make their way into the oil.  Krill or algae is another good option in this regard.
  • Avoid Cod Liver Oil
  • Do not take if on blood thinning medication
  • Find products free of heavy metals

Recommended Options:

*Neither Flex Fitness OT or Coach Josh receives any money or benefit from promoting the above products.

This article was intended to be an overview and nowhere near exhaustive.  To learn more about Macronutrient Balance and how to include it into your daily life, reach out to me at coachjosh@flexfitnessot.com or checkout www.FlexFitnessOT.com to learn about the Physical Wellness System that will help you gain the healthy knowledge and behaviors to have a wonderful, healthy life.


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