Healthy fats, here’s an interesting topic!
If like me, you’re from the time when fat-free was on, it’s likely that this topic still makes you a little uncomfortable… or at least you find it a little confusing. Write YES in the comments, if that’s the case!
Today I’ll tell you a little bit about fat, and share some tips to distinguish good from bad in this context.
I will also show you 4 accessible foods or ingredients, which are part of my daily diet, to make sure that I do the full amount of what I need.
At the end of this video, you will know how to distinguish the different types and how to improve the profile of your diet regarding fats, in a simple and uncomplicated way, which is how I like it!
Watch the video here (in Portuguese):
Fat: what is this macronutrient for?
Contrary to what was believed in the 80s to 90s, fat is actually one of the nutrients vital to the balance of the human body and does not, in general, have the negative side effects that were attributed to it.
The main functions of fat are:
- to sustain brain development.
- involve and protect the body’s cells and organs.
- allow the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (an expensive word that means those that only dissolve in fat).
- promote the synthesis of hormones, that is, promote hormonal balance.
With regard to weight, it is now proven that a balanced intake of certain types of fat does not promote overweight, on the contrary.
The different types of fat
My goal is not to start talking about complicated terms and leave you even more confused …
But a little context helps. And I really want to give you my trick for distinguishing good fats from the bad.
So here it goes, in simple words:
Start by distinguishing between natural fats and industrial fats…
You have those produced industrially and those resulting from the processing of other foods.
Here you find the so-called trans fats and the hydrogenated fats.
Trans fats include partially hydrogenated fats – such as margarine – and fats resulting from processing high-temperature vegetable oils, such as frying.
These two types of fat are the ones you want to avoid at all costs, but unfortunately, they are too present in the current diet.
They occur naturally in small amounts in the fat of cow, goat, and sheep, affecting their meat and milk. But the great sources of trans fats are really the majority of pastry products – both pre-packaged and fresh – and everything that is fried.
“What products are trans fats in?
There’s industrially produced trans and natural trans. The former is in the immense universe of biscuits, pastry products, and box cereals. They are also in margarine, vegetables, French fries, pre-cooked food, and fast food. The latter is naturally present in some foods, such as meat and dairy products from ruminant animals”.
Dr Alexandra Bento, Bastonary of the Order of Nutritionists, in Magg 16/05/2018
You can read the whole interview with Dr. Alexandra Bento on the link I leave at the end.
These fats not only fatten you, but they are also unequivocally promoting inflammation, premature aging, and cardiovascular disease.
In April 2019, a European Union regulation set a maximum of 2% for the trans-fat content of food produced on European territory. Countries will have until 2021 to comply with this regulation.
Fats of natural origin
On the natural side, you have those of animal origin and those of vegetable origin…
Here you have saturated fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats.
As you have seen above, in reality, there is a natural source of trans fats: those naturally present in the fat of ruminant animals (cow, goat, and sheep) and in smaller quantities of pork and chicken; these we eat when we eat meat and dairy products.
The saturated fats… well, here you find the dietary equivalent of the ’50 shades of grey’ … There are no absolutes!
Until recently, saturated fats were considered – along with trans fats – one of the risk factors for obesity and all cardiovascular diseases. But the most recent research seems to refute this fact.
What we do know is that the quality of animal fat depends – yes or yes – on the conditions in which the animals are reared. And what they eat, the medicines they take, the way they are treated, all reflect on the quality of their meat, eggs, milk, and above all their fat.
So my position here is one of caution. Consume if you like, but preferably in moderation and – as Ellen says – ‘from animals whose family you know.
Coconut and its derivatives are also a strong source of saturated fat, this of vegetable origin. However, they have a different molecular structure and metabolism and there is no evidence that they cause the same kind of impact as animal fats.
Good types of fat you should eat
Monounsaturated fatty acids are associated with cardiovascular health, cholesterol control at healthy levels and are believed to promote longevity with quality.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, are those you know as omega-3 and omega-6.
These are called essential because they are important to the body, but as they are not manufactured in-house, they have to be ingested through food.
The so-called normal diet is already quite rich in omega-6, which even though they are essential, quickly become pro-inflammatory, especially when consumed in too high proportions compared to omega-3.
That’s why we want to focus our attention on omega 3.
The following effects are attributed to omega 3:
- anti-inflammatory action
- heart health promotion
- reduction of symptoms of depression
- and the reduction of cancer risk
I’d say that’s enough reason to take care of our consumption of these fats, wouldn’t you?
My 4 favourite ingredients to increase healthy fat intake
These are 4 of my favorite ingredients, which I eat regularly to ensure the proper functioning of body and mind. They are not the only ones, but they are the ones I eat most often, and they are also relatively affordable, both logistically and financially.
Avocado is a fashionable ingredient, I admit. But I’ve liked avocados for a long time. Very much so. When I was in college, while many friends went to Frutalmeidas to eat soft pastry, I would go there in search of a salad with avocado, nuts, and fresh cheese that I loved!
Avocados are very nutritious: they are a great source of monounsaturated fatty acids, contain a good variety of vitamins and minerals, including folates – making them a great food for pregnant women. It has lots of fibre and little cholesterol.
As a health benefit, it is worth emphasizing its positive impact on heart health, skin health, and digestion.
Here at home, I use avocado in smoothies, in little cubes on top of salads, like guacamole, and on top of a nice slice of bread – or toast.
The avocado toast, with an avocado, which you crush with a fork but still feel the texture, is a treat that I love, and I offer myself at the weekend. I’m trying several garnishings, you have a cute recipe on Bárbara Taborda’s website, with pink pepper and grapefruit. But I’ll make others… I’ll share them with you.
More readings about avocado here on the blog: “Avocado: almost a superfood” and “Toasted with avocado and lime zest”.
2nd Olive Oil
Ah, the oil!
But it’s not just any olive oil, it’s the extra virgin olive oil, cold squeezed. And cold used too, by the way.
This key ingredient in the Mediterranean Diet is a fantastic source of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. It also contains small amounts of vitamins E and K.
The scholars of the Mediterranean Diet and also the Blue Zones mention this type of oil as one of the factors promoting active and healthy longevity that is found in communities with this type of eating habit.
I spoke of cold squeezed and cold used … As olive oil has a limited heat tolerance, it easily loses all these antioxidant properties.
That’s why I don’t usually do the so-called stew here at home. That oil, once fried, is no longer of any interest from a health point of view.
And for example, in soups: I only add olive oil as a decoration, already on the plate. I use it as a condiment in cooked dishes that deserve it. And as a seasoning in salads, of course!
This is a good illustration that often eating in a healthy way does not mean changing what you eat radically; with small adjustments to the way you cook you can achieve immense gains in the benefits of your diet.
I can’t resist suggesting a book to you: “The 100 best olive oils in Portugal”, by Edgardo Pacheco – it’s an excellent introduction to the best olive oil produced in our country and its tasting. And you can also read the interview I did with Edgardo, right at the book’s launch – HERE.
3rd Chia seeds
Chia seeds are the most exotic ingredient of these 4… eventually the most expensive too. But their versatility justifies the choice.
Because in addition to the considerable amount of omega 3, they are also an excellent source of protein – 16 grams of protein for every 100 grams of seeds, it’s immense – of fiber and fundamental mineral salts such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium.
They originate from South America and are said to be an important food in Mayan to Aztec civilizations. Their name – Chia – means “Strength” in the Maya language… they say.
I like to use the chia seeds in my breakfast oats, as they have a gelling effect, my overnight oats get a great consistency.
I also use them in yogurts, in the sugar-free berry jam I make, and also in the famous chia pudding, which I have been perfecting …
4th Flaxseed (Linseed)
Last but not the least… Flaxseed.
Flaxseed is another fantastic source of omega 3, with all the benefits that these bring us. Let’s remember: heart health, fight internal inflammation, help brain function, and combat depression …
It also helps – and a lot – digestion.
They are also among the oldest super-foods. It seems that there are mentions of their properties in texts dating back to ancient Greece!
Like chia seeds, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids, they also contain a good amount of protein and fiber.
The best way to consume flaxseed is to grind it, as its shell is resistant to digestion and makes it impossible to absorb all these nutrients.
You can buy them already ground or use a small coffee grinder and grind them at home. As they tend to become rancid, I advise you to keep the ground seeds in the fridge in a tightly closed container.
I use the ground flaxseed in smoothies, as topping in the soup, instead of egg in vegan recipes and instead of breadcrumbs, when I want to create some texture around fish or vegetables.
Another way to benefit from the omega 3 of these seeds is to use the cold-pressed oil as a spice in the salad.
Dr Michael Greger, in his book How Not to Die, mentions studies that link the daily consumption of flaxseed with “almost miraculous” effects – his words, not mine – on the fight against hypertension, breast, and prostate cancer. Again, if this is not motivation, I don’t know what is.
And you, do you usually include any of these ingredients in your everyday life?
Answer the comments, tell us what your favorite sources of healthy fats are.
Dra Alexandra Bento’s interview about trans fats in Portugal: AQUI.
About the Mediterranean Diet in Portugal: AQUI
About the Blue Zones: AQUI