Week 3:

Fantastic Fats

Fats have gotten a really bad rap in the past, just think back to the low-fat fad diets of the 80’s. Those stereotypes still have a hold on us today, but not all fats are the same. In fact, some and certain types of fats are absolutely essential for good health. Fats have tons of functions in our body – they provide energy, help us absorb certain vitamins, and make up crucial parts of cells, just to name a few. 

When you add healthy fats to your meals and snacks, the food you ate actually hangs out a little longer in your stomach before moving along in the digestive system. Fats also help your stomach send a signal to the brain that you’re full. Both of these effects give you that feeling of fullness and satisfaction which prevents overeating from constant snacking and helps with weight management. 

This week will be going over the different types of fats and where to find healthy sources of them, how the commonly used added fats in ultra-processed foods affect your health, and look at some simple swaps for boosting your healthy fat intake.

Fats 101: A crash course on the different types

Saturated fat

Saturated fats are fats that are found in animal products like meat, eggs, and dairy, and tropical oils like coconut, palm, or cocoa butter. These fats tend to be more solid at room temperature and they also are more stable, meaning that they will not go rancid, or bad, as easily as other types of fats. That’s good news – rancid fats aren’t good for us. We like to get our saturated fats from high quality whole foods and minimally processed foods, like coconut oil, pasture raised eggs (such as backyard chickens), and grass-fed dairy and meat.

Monounsaturated fat

Unsaturated fats are usually found in plants and the oils from these are liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats are considered “heart healthy” as eating them lowers your risk of heart disease. We like to get them from whole and minimally processed foods like olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds. Olive oil is a great choice for salad dressing or lower heat cooking since it can go bad if heated at a high temp. For cooking above 350F, stick to avocado oil or canola oil.

Polyunsaturated fats: omega-6 and omega-3

There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats that we eat: omega-6 and omega-3. You may have heard of these before, especially the omega-3 fats. Oftentimes you will hear that these fats are “essential,” but what does that really mean? Well, we are actually able to manufacture certain types of fats for use in our bodies. But we can’t make these, so we have to eat them!

Omega-6 fats help with immune health and promote blood clotting. Whole foods sources of these fats are soybeans, nuts and seeds, meats, poultry, fish, and eggs. 

Omega-3 fats help with immune health, reducing inflammation, and reducing risk of heart disease. They are also critical for brain and eye development in babies. These fats are found in walnuts, flaxseed, chia seed, omega-3 eggs, and fatty fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. 

Unsaturated fats are less stable than saturated fats and can go rancid easily. If you buy larger quantities of nuts and seeds, it’s a good idea to keep them in your fridge or freezer. 

Added fats in ultra-processed foods

Many foods with unsaturated fats like olives, nuts, and seeds are processed into oils. Some oils can be made my expeller pressing – basically squishing the food until the fat comes out. Cold-pressed virgin olive oil is an example of this. These oils are minimally processed, and higher quality.

More processed oils are made from cheap vegetable byproducts like corn or soy, and go through a much more intensive process. After pressing, they go through further refining with solvents to get as much oil as possible. This exposes the delicate fats to lots of high heat and chemicals, damaging them and making them potentially harmful to us when we eat them. These oils need to be treated with deodorizers and more chemicals to make the oils taste and smell edible.

These heavily refined oils are inexpensive, so they’re used to make ultra-processed foods. When we eat these foods we’re exposed to pesticides, traces of chemicals, and rancid fats. It’s just another reason why it’s best to limit the amount of highly processed foods we consume on a daily basis.

Here’s a peek at how canola oil is made:

Trans fats

Research has clearly shown that consuming artificially made trans fat increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Trans fats occur in very small amounts in nature – usually in animal fat found in meats and dairy. But the primary source is from artificial trans fats that are used in ultra-processed foods. These lab-made fats were originally created to make liquid oils into a solid at room temperature, like margarine.

While trans fats in foods have technically been banned in the US, trans fats are not completely out of our food supply. They can still be used to fry foods at restaurants or for shelf-stable fried foods, and ultra-processed food manufacturers have a loop-hole that allows for some trans fat in your food. See, the rule is that foods must have 0 grams of trans fat per serving, but nutrition labels are rounded. Companies can claim their foods have “0 grams of trans fats” if they contain less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. The trick here is that we can often eat more than one serving of these ultra-processed foods, or eat multiple foods that use this loophole, causing our intake of trans fats to add up fast!

Be sure to check the ingredient section of your nutrition label for these hidden trans fat sources: partially hydrogenated oil, soybean oil, corn oil, canola oil, or cottonseed oil.

Balancing the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3

The types of fats used in ultra-processed foods are usually higher in those omega-6 fats that we mentioned earlier. While omega-6 fats are not bad on their own, our bodies need the right ratio of omega-6 to omega-3. The amount that we get if we eat a lot of processed foods throws off the balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats. In excess, omega-6 fats can promote too much inflammation in the body and have been linked to chronic inflammatory diseases including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Alzheimer’s disease, and obesity.

We recommend getting your omega-6’s from the minimally processed foods we mentioned earlier, like nuts and seeds, edamame, and fish. Their omega-6 to omega-3 balance is much better, and they contain more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants along with it, as opposed to the chemicals, dyes, and added sugars processed foods often contain

Super Simple Swaps!

If you’re not sure where to start, you can try swapping out foods you already eat with some healthy fats. Click on some sources of fat and we’ll reveal its healthier counterpart.

Swap it for smashed avocado or an olive oil dressing

Swap it for Greek yogurt with walnuts and hemp seeds

Swap out the cheese with hummus and olives or the crackers for a sliced apple

Swap for roasted potato wedges made with avocado oil

Swap it for air-popped popcorn and add a small amount of melted butter or coconut oil

Swap it for homemade cookies where you can control the type of fat! 

Swap it for a homemade dressing or buy a brand that uses olive or avocado oil like Chosen Foods® or Primal Kitchen®.

If you reach out to a Health Coach in your Brook app, they’ll be able to help you find simple swaps that work for you!

That’s everything for this week!

Now let’s look at our action plan:

Log meals, snacks, and drinks for the week and identify sources of fat
Include a healthy fat source at every meal
Chat with a Health Coach about easy swaps to replace processed fats with whole foods sources
Chat soon!
Image of Brook Health Expert Kelsea
Reviewed by Kelsea Hoover, MS, RDN​

on November 15th, 2020. Kelsea is a Registered Dietitian with her Master's degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA, and is one of our Health Coaches.