This week, in honor of American Heart Month, we’re continuing with our exploration of fats. Knowing which fats are healthy choices can easily become overwhelming. Last week, we talked about the benefits of saturated fats and how the right kinds are are essential to a healthy diet as they are building blocks for hormones, crucial to brain function, and full of fat-soluble vitamins.
But saturated fats aren’t the only fats you should be considering. Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats (the two types of unsaturated fats), are also key to a healthy diet and lifestyle. In this post, we’ll talk about the difference between these two fats and discuss the best sources to make sure you’re getting enough.
Why You Need More Mono-unsaturated Fats
Mono-unsaturated fats are often touted as the “healthiest” of the fats, and for good reason. They help build and maintain cell structure and are often high in vitamin E. Studies show that a diet high in this type of fat can help alleviate symptoms of arthritis, contribute to weight loss when paired with a high-protein diet and help people with type 2 diabetes manage their blood sugar.
We can’t talk about mono-unsaturated fats without discussing their benefits for the heart. Studies show these fats can lower your risk of heart disease by managing LDL (bad) cholesterol levels. If you ask me, eating more avocados for better heart health is certainly something to celebrate during American Heart Month! To top it all off, they can even help improve your mood and sharpen your memory.
You can find this fat in a wide variety of vegetables and foods. Your body also makes mono-unsaturated fatty acids from the saturated fat that you eat (another good reason to add those healthy saturated fats to your diet). Even though you can make them, it’s still a good idea to get more of these tasty fats from food. You’ll get the extra benefits, and they’re just plain delicious.
Best Sources of Mono-unsaturated Fats
- Olive oil
- Nuts, including almonds, pecans, macadamias and cashews
- Sesame oil
Poly-unsaturated Fats Are Essential to Your Diet
Poly-unsaturated fats are the least stable of the fatty acids, and since your body can’t create them, you can only get them from your diet. That’s why they’re considered “essential” fatty acids.
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are both types of poly-unsaturated fats. You’ve probably heard of omega-3s quite a bit, and most people associate them with fish and seafood consumption. They are the building blocks for cell membranes and most hormones. Studies show they can help prevent heart disease and stroke. They are also anti-inflammatory, and we could all use a little less inflammation these days.
Although they are pro-inflammatory, omega-6 fatty acids are also essential and linked to cardiovascular health and brain function. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include safflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, soybean oil, peanut oil and cottonseed. You may find David Brown’s science-based guide on safflower oil an interesting read.
In general, more people are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids than omega-6, so we recommend focusing on getting more omega-3s with these tasty food options.
Great Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Low mercury, cold water fish (try wild-caught salmon, sardines, anchovies, and petrale sole)
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
- Pasture-raised animal products
For an omega-3 packed meal, try this delicious recipe for seared salmon with a side salad topped with chia seeds.
Check back next week in our third and final post of the “Don’t Fear Fat” series!