Consuming monounsaturated fatty acids may protect you from heart disease by lowering LDL and total cholesterol, improve the function of blood vessels, help prevent depression, improve body composition, and improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control (10,11). Monounsaturated fats have even been shown to reduce cancer risk (12). Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contain the antioxidant vitamin E which has many health benefits.
Is olive oil good for you? Believe it or not, the olive oil benefits are so profound that almost any diet should include it. First, extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is great for heart health. In fact, olive oil consumption has been linked to lower blood pressure, reduced cholesterol levels and improved blood vessel function. (14, 15, 16) The high amount of antioxidants in EVOO means it protects your cells from damage. It also helps improve memory and cognitive function and works as an anti-inflammatory agent. (17) Since inflammation is at the root of most diseases, this is a biggie! (18)
Bad fats or trans fats are often used in packaged goods such as chips, pretzels, cookies, fast food, shortenings and some margarine brands. They are even found in some brands of peanut butter. Because the body can't break them down, trans fats (or bad fats) attach to the arteries and may result in plaque formation, which can be linked to heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer and asthma, as well as other illnesses.
Why are trans fats bad for you, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats good for you, and saturated fats somewhere in-between? For years, fat was a four-letter word. We were urged to banish it from our diets whenever possible. We switched to low-fat foods. But the shift didn't make us healthier, probably because we cut back on healthy fats as well as harmful ones.
So you might assume that fat is to blame for the obesity epidemic now plaguing our nation. Actually, fat is only part of the problem. Obesity is much more complicated than just overeating a single nutrient. Eating more calories -- from fats, carbohydrates, protein, and alcohol -- than you burn off leads to weight gain. Simply put, people who get little physical activity and eat a diet high in calories are going to gain weight. Genetics, age, sex, and lifestyle also weigh into the weight-gain formula.
When comparing saturated vs. unsaturated fat, it’s generally recommended that unsaturated fatty acids should make up the majority of your fat intake. One study in 2015 showed that replacing just 5 percent of calories from saturated fats with an equal amount from polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fatty acids resulted in a 25 percent and 15 percent reduced risk of heart disease, respectively. (6) However, both offer a unique set of benefits and can be included in moderation as part of a well-balanced and healthy diet.
The oils you cook with are a great way to incorporate healthy fats. For high-heat cooking, coconut and avocado oils are best because they have a higher smoke point, the temperature at which the fat or oil begins to break down due to heat. Avocado oil has the highest smoke point (570 degrees). The smoke point of ghee is 485 degrees and extra virgin coconut oil is 350 degrees.
The type of fatty acids that make up coconut oil’s saturated fat content is medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and are about 65% of its fat content. Unlike long chain fatty acids (the majority of fats in our diet) which must go through modification prior to being digested and absorbed in our bodies, medium chain triglycerides are passively diffused from our gastrointestinal tract to the portal system. In other words, our bodies find it super easy to break down the fat before getting rapidly absorbed and used for energy by the body. Coming from a clinical background, MCT’s are very commonly used in treating people who have malabsorption issues, are on ketogenic diets, or are increasing calories without much volume.
These polyunsaturated fats, also known as essential fatty acids, are a must from your diet as they cannot be produced by the body like other fats. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in fatty fish like salmon, nuts and seeds like walnuts and flaxseed, and even some grass-fed meats. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods like safflower oil and grapeseed oil. While many of us get too many omega-6 fatty acids, we often fall short on our omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to healthier heart and brain function. Research indicates that intake of these two essential fatty acids should be balanced for optimal health.
Unfortunately, buying this healthy fat isn’t as easy as just grabbing the first bottle you see. Make sure to pick only extra virgin varieties of the oil, which means no chemicals are involved when the oil is refined. Unfortunately, many common brands have been shown to fail the standards for extra virgin olive oils, meaning it’s important to choose wisely.