I can remember when the health community stated limiting our fat intake was a healthy way to go. Low fat diets became the fad. They did not differentiate the good vs the bad fats. Their purpose was to lower the intake of all fats. We switched to a low fat food diet. But the shift didn’t make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.

Are fats really bad for us? According to Harvard Medical School our body needs some fat from food. It’s a major source of energy. It helps us absorb some vitamins and minerals. Fat is needed to build cell membranes, the vital exterior of each cell, and the sheaths surrounding nerves. It is essential for blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation. These are some of the functions of good healthy fats.

Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are considered the good fats. Foods high in good fats include avocados, tofu, nuts, seeds, fish, olive oil, peanut butter, boiled soybean, flaxseed oil, cheese, and eggs. This list is by no means all inclusive. According to my food data.com good fat can help lower the risk of heart disease and stroke, lower bad LDL cholesterol levels, while increasing good HDL, lower blood pressure and triglycerides. The discovery that good fat could be healthful came from the seven countries study during the 1960s. Harvard medical school research 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 is viewed as a good 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.

Trans fat (bad fat) according to the Mayo Clinic standard, is considered the worst type of fat you can eat. It is a byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that is used to turn healthy oils into solids and to prevent them from becoming rancid. Trans fats have no known health benefits and that there is no safe level of consumption, according to Harvard Medical School. Eating foods rich in trans fats increase the amount of harmful LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream and reduces the amount of beneficial HDL cholesterol. Trans fat create inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They contribute to insulin resistance, which increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health, for every 2% of calories from trans fat consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rise by 23%. Examples of foods that contain high levels of trans fats are stick margarine, fast foods, commercial baked goods (donuts, cookies, crackers), processed foods, and fried foods. Trans fats may pose a risk of developing certain cancers according to WebMD.

The last fat that comes under scrutiny is saturated fats. Saturated fats has both a positive and negative effect on our health. Researchers recommend saturated fat intake at the minimum because the scientific community generally accept it to be a biological necessity. In fact, saturated fat is so important, our body actually makes its own from carbohydrates via a process called de novo lipogenesis.

Our body seeks homeostasis all the time and it couldn’t be more relevant when it comes to fatty acid balance. Saturated fats and unsaturated fats help promote optimal cell membrane fluidity where the former makes cell membrane less fluid and the latter, more fluid. The body needs saturated fat to produce hormones in our body. Hormones are responsible for muscle growth, bone health, and reproductive health. Fat, not just saturated fat, in general is also needed for organ protection and energy production not just for energy’s sake, but also for producing body heat by means of thermogenesis. Fat is also required by the body to digest, absorb, and transport vitamins A,D,E, and K because of their fat-soluble nature.

The negative side of saturated fats. While some saturated fat is necessary for your diet, about five or six percent of your average daily intake, according to the American Heart Association, too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol levels and increase your store of LDL, the type of cholesterol that causes plaque buildup in the arteries. Because of this correlation, it is possible that a diet rich in saturated fats can lead to health risks like heart disease, stroke or type 2 diabetes. The health hazards of high intakes of saturated fats, however, can depend on the type of food source they come from. For example, the National Institutes of Health found that processed meats can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, while dairy may decrease it.

These are just some of the known facts about fats. I hope this research helps you make an inform decision on which foods to embrace and which to avoid. Until the next time, stay save.