To function optimally, your body needs fats. In this article you will learn which fat sources are ideal and how much fat is actually useful.
For a long time, fat was considered a fattening food. Today we know: fat does not make you fat, at least not if the amounts are adapted to you and your body. Rather, fats are essential in the diet, at least some fatty acids. And without fat, your body can't absorb some essential vitamins like A, D, E and K. Moreover, along with carbohydrates, fats are the body's most important energy stores. So going without fat is not a good idea. But there are still some things to consider when choosing fat sources.
Saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated - which is it?
Depending on the structure of the fatty acids, we speak of saturated, unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. The decisive factor here is the number of double bonds between the C atoms in the molecular structure. If there are no double bonds, the fatty acid is said to be saturated; if there is a double bond, the fatty acid is unsaturated; if there are several double bonds, the fatty acid is polyunsaturated. As a rule of thumb, unsaturated fatty acids are more liquid than saturated ones. Also, animal foods generally contain more saturated fatty acids, while plant foods contain more unsaturated ones. One exception is fatty fish, which also contains many unsaturated fatty acids. In general, however, natural foods never contain only one type of fatty acid in isolation. But let's take a closer look at the individual types:
Saturated fatty acids: the evil enemy?
As already mentioned, these fatty acids are found primarily in animal foods such as fatty meats, sausages, whole milk products, butter and, in addition, in many processed foods. Basically, our body does not depend on the supply of saturated fatty acids, but can produce them itself.
Saturated fatty acids are suspected of raising blood lipids and increasing the "bad" LDL cholesterol. Therefore, a high amount of saturated fatty acids in the diet is warned against cardiovascular diseases. Today, however, it is also known that not all saturated fatty acids exhibit these negative effects.
It is often argued that saturated fatty acids are important for the formation of the hormone testosterone. This is absolutely true. If the proportion of fats in the total calorie intake is reduced to below 20 percent, this can have a negative effect on testosterone levels in the long term. However, monounsaturated fatty acids do almost the same thing, but without the negative side effects of saturated fatty acids.
However, saturated fatty acids have one decisive advantage: they are very heat-stable. This means that they are very well suited for frying, especially coconut oil, which has been the subject of much controversy in recent times. This has beyond that still another high measure of medium-chain fatty acids (MCT fats), a special form of the saturated fatty acids, which are converted by the body preferentially to ketone bodies. The increased intake of MCT fats may be indicated for some medical conditions and also as part of a ketogenic diet. In addition, there are studies that have demonstrated a positive effect of MCT fats in the fight against type 2 diabetes. However, when choosing coconut oil, make sure that it is cold-pressed, as this preserves the micronutrients better.
In summary, it still makes absolute sense to keep the amount of saturated fat in your diet low.
Unsaturated fatty acids: Don't lump them together!
Your body can also produce most unsaturated fatty acids itself. Exceptions are the well-known omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
In general, unsaturated fatty acids are considered healthy because they lower the "bad" LDL cholesterol. They can also reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer.
Monounsaturated fatty acids are easily digested and easily digestible. As already mentioned, they play a central role in the formation of important hormones. Good sources include peanuts or peanut butter, avocados, canola oil and olive oil.
Omega 3 vs. Omega 6
Polyunsaturated fatty acids are indeed essential and also very healthy, provided the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is correct. Depending on the source, a ratio of 4:1 or 5:1 is recommended. In practice, however, this is not at all easy to implement, since most foods contain significantly more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3. The problem here is that while omega 3 fatty acids generally have an anti-inflammatory effect, the omega 6 fatty acid arachidonic acid actually promotes inflammation.
Among the omega 3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are particularly noteworthy. Both have very positive effects on health, for example on blood pressure and heart health. Good sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids are linseed oil, walnuts, but especially fatty fish and special algae. The latter are particularly important for vegans, because the omega-3 fatty acid α-linolenic acid contained in linseed oil and walnuts is converted in the body to only a small proportion in the higher-value EPA and DHA.
Hands off trans fats!
The so-called trans fats are of particular concern from a health point of view. These are mainly produced during the processing of unsaturated fatty acids. They can often be identified by the label "vegetable oil, partially hydrogenated".
Trans fats can also be formed by strong heating during frying or deep-frying. Therefore, only oils with a high smoke point should be used for this purpose.
How much fat should it be?
Despite all the advantages of healthy fat sources, you should always keep the high calorie density in mind. Per gram, fat provides almost twice as much energy as carbohydrates or protein.
In general, however, it is recommended that at least about one third of the daily energy intake should come from fat. The proportion of saturated fatty acids, monounsaturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids should be balanced.
Healthy sources of fat for your diet
We have compiled some highly recommended sources of fat for you below.
The green berry from Central America is a real nutrient bomb! In addition to monounsaturated fats, avocado also contains significant amounts of vitamins A, D, E and K, carotenoids, biotin, folic acid and calcium, as well as all essential amino acids. Moreover, since it contains hardly any carbohydrates, it has little effect on blood sugar levels.
When buying, make sure that the avocado is still quite firm. It is best to store them at room temperature.
Avocados are perfect as an ingredient for salads or even as a dip or spread.
However, there is one catch: avocados are not sustainable. Their cultivation consumes a lot of water, and they also have to be imported over long distances.
Nuts, like almonds and peanuts, which are not nuts in biological terms, not only contain large amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, but also many valuable vitamins and minerals. The large number of varieties ensures variety, and the possible uses are also almost limitless. A delicious and versatile alternative is a natural peanut butter without added sugar or palm oil.
The classic fat source is, of course, oils. Here, there is a wide range of different varieties to choose from.
Olive oil is an indispensable ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. It contains plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids. In the trade one finds primarily three quality stages: Olive oil, virgin olive oil and extra virgin olive oil. Furthermore, there are differences in the production method: cold-pressed olive oil must not be heated higher than 27 degrees Celsius during production, which preserves more nutrients. Due to its high smoke point, olive oil is very suitable for frying. The taste varies greatly depending on the country of origin. It should always be stored away from light.
Rapeseed oil is a perfect all-rounder in the kitchen. It is very healthy: The proportion of essential fatty acids, especially α-linolenic acid, is several times higher than that of olive oil. Here, too, the following applies: Trust in cold-pressed oil, since many micronutrients are decomposed by heating. For frying, on the other hand, you should rather rely on refined rapeseed oil, since the cold-pressed variant is not very heat-resistant.
Linseed oil has a particularly high proportion of omega 3 fatty acids. However, this very healthy oil has a very peculiar taste and is also not suitable for heating, but rather for salads or cold dishes.
You should be more cautious with sunflower oil. This is very cheap, but has a high omega 6 content.
Hand on heart: How often is fish on your plate? While low-fat fish is a very good and lean source of protein, higher-fat fish are the ideal source of omega 3. These are usually cold-water fish that absorb the omega 3 fatty acids themselves through food, especially algae and krill.
The classic is certainly salmon, but our local waters hold many alternatives. Trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and sprats are also true omega 3 bombs. For those who can't get used to the taste of fish, fish oil capsules are a high-quality alternative.
For a long time, eggs were considered cholesterol bombs and therefore unhealthy. Today we know that this criticism is not tenable. On the contrary, eggs are true nutritional wonders that contain a lot of high-quality protein with an outstanding biological value and also many vitamins and minerals. In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, eggs also contain lecithin, which has a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Decisive for the amount of health-promoting ingredients are the living conditions of the hens. Free-range animals that find a diverse food supply lay eggs that are significantly richer in nutrients than those kept in battery cages.
Plant seeds are the source of most plant oils. However, they can also be used in a variety of ways when unprocessed. Flaxseeds and chia seeds are especially popular.
Like flax oil, flax seeds contain very high-quality polyunsaturated fatty acids. However, one should not overdo it when consuming them, as larger quantities can have a strong laxative effect. After all, flaxseed is considered a natural laxative.
Chia seeds have been considered an absolute superfood for several years. The Chia plant comes from Mexico and belongs to the sage plants. The seeds are rich in calcium and antioxidants and provide an increased feeling of satiety due to their high fiber content. The protein content is also impressive at around 16 percent. Like flaxseed, chia seeds contain the essential polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. It should be noted that chia seeds are suspected of lowering blood pressure and thinning the blood.