Dietary Fats: Not As Bad For Us As Once Thought

Functional medicine specialist Dr. Marsha Nunley with H.E.A.L. Medical offers tips on understanding which fats are necessary and best for good health

Selection of healthy fat sources, nuts, oils, avocado and salmon

Selection of healthy fat sources, nuts, oils, avocado and salmon

San Francisco, CA, September 2016 – It used to be that almost everywhere we turned we heard the same message: Stay away from fat! But the truth is more nuanced since we all need dietary fat to stay healthy, and the trick is knowing which types of fat are best to consume, according to Marsha Nunley, MD, founder of H.E.A.L. Medical. “Fats give us energy, provide nutrients for our nervous system and brain and are needed to properly absorb certain vitamins,” says Dr. Nunley, a specialist in functional medicine, a systems-based approach to treating the whole person. Fat makes food taste good by providing a smooth, creamy texture and helps us feel full.”

However, not all fats are created equal. “Clearly, some types of fat are healthier than others,” notes Dr. Nunley, who is triple board-certified in internal medicine, geriatric medicine, and palliative care. “Unfortunately, many people don’t know the difference between these types of fat. Improving knowledge of healthy fats and adding them to your diet is essential to health.

Fats that we need for good health

Dr. Nunley recommends consuming fats found in animal foods in moderation and preferably from organic sources. Fats contain 9 calories per gram of fat in comparison to carbohydrates and protein at 4 calories per gram so while higher in calories, they provide an extended source of energy. Dr. Nunley poses, “Did you ever notice how long you feel full after a high fat meal?” Saturated fat is found in animal foods, and is usually solid at room temperature. It’s in milk, cheese, butter, and meat. It has a long history of an association with increased risk for heart disease although this has recently been called into question. Some believe failure to improve health with low fat foods is due to the replacement of fat in processed foods with excess sugar and carbohydrates. The saturated fat in plants, such as coconut, palm oil and cocoa butter have a beneficial effect on health. Coconut oil breaks down to medium chain triglycerides which has beneficial effects for the brain. Monounsaturated fat is found in olive oil and because it is monounsaturated and cannot be broken into trans fat is probably the best healthy fat to consume.

Omega 3 fats are another beneficial group of essential fats found in fatty fish, nuts, seeds and some plants. These fats are good for heart health. Most people’s diets are low in omega 3 fats. Eating more omega 3 fats can lower LDL cholesterol levels, raise our HDL cholesterol levels and ease inflammation.

Good sources of omega 3 fats are salmon, anchovies, herring, sardines, mackerel and nuts and seeds such as almonds, walnuts, chia, and flax.

Avoid trans fats

Dr. Nunley advises to avoid foods with trans fats which include baked goods like cookies, cakes, chips, and most packaged foods.  Altered by a process called hydrogenation, the presence of trans fat in foods increases shelf life and makes for flakier piecrusts and crispier crackers. Trans fat is the worst type of fat we can consume. Some polyunsaturated fats found in corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil are unhealthy because they form trans-fat and have been associated with increased risk for heart disease and stroke as well as inflammation and other chronic diseases.

Dr. Nunley concludes, “to maximize the essential fatty acids in your body, choose plant based saturated fats, grass fed meat, (has a higher content of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats), and olive oil. Avoid packaged and processed foods, fried foods, and keep dairy to a minimum.”