Dietary Fat: Know Which Type To Choose
There are several categories of dietary fat- monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated fats (some healthy some not), and trans fats.
Understanding the difference between types of dietary fat can help you understand what kinds of fat are best for your goals.
Monounsaturated- these are the kinds of fats I recommend the most to my clients particularly when body composition is a concern. Monounsaturated fats are mainly found in foods like nuts, olive oil, avocado, grape seed oil, canola oil, etc. These types of fats help to lower bad cholesterol and contribute to a healthy, lean physique.
Polyunsaturated- polyunsaturated fats, which can be found in vegetable oils, sunflower and cottonseed oil, have been shown to be protective against insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), but in general have more of a neutral impact on the body. Meaning they don't affect it positively or negatively in a considerable way.
Underneath the umbrella of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are the ever important omega fatty acids, of which there are three types: omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are two types of polyunsaturated fat. The benefits of these fats in the body is irrefutable. I recommend consuming these types of fats regardless of your fitness goals. They are considered essential fatty acids because the body cannot manufacture them on its own. They are found in foods like fatty cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring and also, in some nuts (such as walnuts), flaxseeds and flax oil and some canola oils. These fats have the ability to significantly reduce inflammation, help prevent cancer growth and improve brain function, and help improve hormonal function.
What is also worth noting about omegas is their powerful ability to fight inflammation in the body. The reduction of inflammation has major beneficial consequences, both for the general population and for bodybuilders or athletes. Inflammation, although a necessary aspect of the tissue building process, has been shown to impede muscular recovery if it continues for a too long (chronic inflammation). This makes omega 3 fats essential for adequate recovery and muscle growth.
Saturated- this type of fat is most often found in animal products and is solid and waxy at room temperature. Some non animal sources exist like coconut oil or macadamia nuts/oil but for the most part saturated fats would be things like bacon, eggs, cheese and butter. It is important to limit this type of fat as it has been shown to increase blood cholesterol by increasing both the good HDL (high density lipoprotein) and bad LDL (low density lipoprotein) types of cholesterol.
Research on this is extensive and it's why I try to limit the amount of animal based saturated fats in the diets of my clients. While it's true that grassfed or free range animals produce healthier versions of these fats, the research on this is in its infancy and until it's more conclusive I am hesitant to recommend more saturated fat intake, particularly when food quality is such an issue and many people shop on a budget.
Science has demonstrated that saturated fats also are more readily stored as body fat compared to the beneficial good fats, so it is best to avoid them when aiming to shed unwanted fat or weight while maintaining good health.
So saturated fat in small amounts is okay, just not the best choice.
Trans fats- this is the "do not touch" stuff. These fats result from the hydrogenation process, which occurs when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. Trans fats are often used for commercial goods, as they are less likely to turn rancid — so think fat found in packaged cookies, crackers, cakes, and so on. These fats lower good cholesterol and raise bad cholesterol. Trans fats have also been shown to cause an overactivity of the immune system which correlates with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions. Bottom line here is don't touch this stuff.
So my recommendations typically are that for overall health, wellbeing, recovery, muscle growth and fat loss- focus primarily on consuming the majority of your fats from monounsaturated fats and in particular the omega 3 fats. To a lesser extent you can include some polyunsaturated fats and healthy well sourced saturated fats. Avoid all commercial or conventional saturated fats and trans fats.