Every month, we open up the floor to our readers and give them the chance to challenge Julia Howard, our resident nutrition expert, with any pressing questions they might have. Julia is a registered holistic nutritionist who specializes in sports nutrition and digestive health. If you want your question answered, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: Only those with an approved question should expect a response.
This month’s question is…
“What is the difference between good fat and bad fat? Can you differentiate between the two by simply studying nutritional labels?”
Good fats include all of the fats found in whole, unrefined foods that have not been chemically altered in some way including polyunsaturated fats (e.g., omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids), monounsaturated fats, and, yes, saturated fats such as those found in dairy products, meats, coconut oil, and even butter. All fats include a mixture of various fatty acids, though. For example, olive oil contains the omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats as well as monounsaturated fats.
The only fats that are essential for the body are the essential fatty acids, which include omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and omega-6 alpha-linoleic acid. These fats are used to produce our cell membranes, hormones, and respond to inflammation. We need a balance of both. Most of us already get a lot of omega-6 fatty acids in our diets through the use of vegetable and grain oils (e.g., canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil) and should try to get more whole-food sources of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets such as freshly ground flax seeds, raw walnuts, and wild coldwater fish like mackerel, herring, and salmon.
“Bad fats” are rancid polyunsaturated fats that have been denatured through exposure to air, heat, or light, or have undergone a chemical hydrogenation process to form trans fats. All of these bad fats can damage our cell membranes and increase our risk of heart disease. Although nutritional labels will give us a product’s trans fat contents, we can’t tell if polyunsaturated oils like olive oil or canola oil have gone rancid.
Buying high-quality oils, storing them in a cool, dark place, and avoiding eating processed, packaged, and fried fast-foods should help reduce your exposure to these junk fats.