How Does Fat in the Diet Help the Body?
Having an adequate intake of dietary fat is essential for the proper functioning of the body. Fat enables the body to construct cell membranes, which are the exterior covering of cells, and the sheaths that serve as coverings for nerves. Fat supports the absorption of vitamins and minerals, and it is vital for proper blood coagulation and muscle movement.
What Are the Types of Fats Commonly Found in Diet?
There are several major types of dietary fats: trans fats, saturated fats and unsaturated fats.
Trans fats are a byproduct of hydrogenation, and they form through a process that turns healthy liquid oils into a solid state. These types of fats are found in products that use partially hydrogenated oils, including french fries and other fried foods, some store-bought baked goods, and packaged foods such as crackers, cookies and cakes. These types of fats cause inflammation and increased cholesterol, resulting in an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Trans fats lower the body's sensitivity to insulin and increase the risk of diabetes. Many countries have officially banned trans fats due to their health risks.
Saturated fats are often part of keto and high-fat diets and consumption of these fats should be limited. Examples of saturated fats include bacon and other red meats, coconut oil and full-fat dairy products such as yogurt and whole milk.
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Research has established that these types of fats help to lower overall inflammation in the body. They also reduce cholesterol and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease. Most unsaturated fats come from fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Avocados, chia seeds, peanut butter and olive oil are all healthy sources of unsaturated fats.
Omega-3 fatty acids are part of the polyunsaturated fat category and are an essential fat for the body. Since the body cannot manufacture these fatty acids, they must be obtained from food. Omega-3s help the body manufacture hormones that regulate the relaxation and contraction of blood vessels, and they also contribute to genetic expression. Omega-3s have been shown to protect against heart disease and stroke, and animal studies suggest that they may help reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases. Additional studies have suggested that they may play a role in the management of conditions such as lupus and eczema. These fatty acids are found in both fish and nuts.
What Foods Are Convenient Sources of Healthy Fats?
Walnuts, MCT oil and olive oil all provide vital healthy fats and other nutrients, and they can be easily incorporated into the diet. For example, walnuts can be eaten as a morning or afternoon snack, and they can also be used on top of a salad or chopped up in homemade baked goods. MCT oil, or medium-chain triglyceride oil, is a staple of the keto diet; it can be drizzled on top of meals, placed in coffee or smoothies, and added to sauces or salad dressings. Extra-virgin olive oil can be used in cooking and baking, and it makes an excellent topping for salads, bread and pasta.
What Are the Health Benefits of Walnuts in the Diet?
Walnuts are a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially for individuals following a plant-based diet. The type of omega-3 fat that is absorbed from plant sources is known as alpha-linolenic acid. Studies suggest that each gram of alpha-linolenic acid consumed per day may lower the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by as much as 10 percent. Researchers recommend that men consume 1.6 grams of alpha-linolenic acid daily. Women should aim for 1.1 grams of alpha-linolenic acid each day. Walnuts have a higher concentration of alpha-linolenic acid compared to other nuts; a 1-ounce serving of walnuts has 2.5 grams of this fatty acid.
Walnuts contain very high concentrations of antioxidants that protect against cancer and other diseases. The skin of these nuts is high in vitamin E, melatonin and compounds known as polyphenols. These antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress, and studies have shown that eating walnuts in a meal can prevent the damage caused by LDL cholesterol. This helps reduce hardening of the arteries known as atherosclerosis.
Research suggests that walnuts play a role in decreasing inflammation throughout the body. Inflammation is a major trigger of diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and type 2 diabetes. The combination of magnesium and alpha-linolenic acid in walnuts is believed to reduce inflammation, and scientists hypothesize that a specific amino acid known as arginine and a specific type of polyphenols named ellagitannins are significantly active in lowering inflammation.
What Are the Health Benefits of MCT Oil in the Diet?
Medium-chain triglyceride oil, abbreviated as MCT oil, is an important source of a type of fat that most people do not get in adequate amounts. The majority of fats in the diet are long-chain triglycerides. In contrast to long-chain triglycerides, medium-chain triglycerides are processed differently by the body, and they tend to be metabolized more like carbohydrates. Just as the body uses up carbohydrates first for energy, it also uses up medium-chain triglycerides as a primary source of fuel. This means that medium-chain triglycerides are used up quickly by the body as fuel and are rarely stored as fat. Studies have indicated that medium-chain triglycerides may be an important tool for fat loss.
Medium-chain triglycerides have been shown to increase the number of calories that the body burns, and they also increase ketone production. Including MCT oil with a meal may help with weight loss by boosting metabolism, and it can help those on the keto diet stay in ketosis for a longer period of time. The type of fat found in medium-chain triglycerides also helps individuals feel satiated for a longer period of time than other fats; this suggests that it could be an effective appetite suppressant.
Like other healthy fats, medium-chain triglycerides help the body absorb vitamins and minerals more easily. For example, magnesium, calcium, amino acids and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D are more readily absorbed when taken with meals containing medium-chain triglycerides. Anecdotal evidence from patients suggests that this type of triglyceride may also ease symptoms of conditions related to disrupted metabolism of fats, including Crohn's disease, celiac disease, pancreatitis and obstructive jaundice.
What Are the Health Benefits of Extra-Virgin Olive Oil in the Diet?
Extra-virgin olive oil has been a staple of the Mediterranean diet for centuries. Unlike other types of oil that are manufactured using chemicals, this type of olive oil is simply pressed by a machine, and it is considered the purest form of olive oil. Compared to other oils, extra-virgin olive oil has a very low acidity level of less than 1 percent, and it has a lighter color and more neutral taste than other oils.
The health benefits of extra-virgin olive oil have been extensively studied and are well-documented across several decades. Studies have shown that this form of olive oil helps lower inflammation and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. While 14 percent of olive oil is saturated fat, 73 percent of the total content of this oil is comprised of oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fat. Studies on the effects of oleic acid have shown that it reduces inflammatory markers, including a marker known as C-reactive protein. Studies of individuals in countries where olive oil forms a major part of the diet have shown that the oil is not associated with weight gain.
The high levels of antioxidants in this oil enhance its ability to protect against inflammation and oxidative stress. Researchers have investigated the properties of a particular antioxidant in extra-virgin olive oil known as oleocanthal, and they found that it functioned in a similar manner to ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory drug.
Regardless of a person's goals for health or fitness, incorporating healthy fats can make a positive difference.