All fats are not created equal, which is why we hate to see them all swept into the corner, labeled “bad” and dismissed faster than it took Game of Thrones’ Catelyn Stark to shun her husband’s bastard son, Jon Snow. Let’s play nice and take a closer look.
Unsaturated fats—the watcher on the walls
Like the Knight’s watch, these fats are looking out for you. They serve you by helping to absorb fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, they provide essential fatty acids, and fend off heart attacks and strokes by reducing bad cholesterol levels.
Examples of Unsaturated fat
- There’s less hype surrounding these unsaturated fats than their more complex counterpart (polyunsaturated fats), but they’re still important. Monounsaturated fats provide nutrients to help develop and maintain your body’s cells. Oils rich in monounsaturated fats also contribute vitamin E (functions as an antioxidant and promotes cell signaling). Find monounsaturated fats in olive oil, peanut oil, avocados, almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, pumpkin and sesame seeds.
- These fats provide nutrients that help develop and maintain the cells in your body. They have fats essential to you that your body can’t produce itself, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids
- Your heart loves this type of polyunsaturated fat with all its … heart. Omega-3s are key in the production of hormones that relax artery walls and regulate inflammation and blood clotting. Omega-3s also help lower levels of lipoprotein (LDL, also known as “bad” cholesterol). LDL likes to join with fats and other substances to clog up arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Omega 3s are not down with that, and act accordingly, on behalf of your heart. Find omega-3s in bison and wild game that are range free and grass fed, salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring, ground flaxseed, flaxseed oil, soybean oil, walnuts, butternuts and sunflower seeds.
Omega-6 fatty acids
- Found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, these fats help with brain function (who needs coffee when you have Omega-6?) and cell growth. The American Heart Association recommends people eat 5-10% of their daily calories from omega-6 fatty acids. Find omega-6 in sunflower oil, soybean oil, avocado oil, walnuts, safflower seeds, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds and peanuts.
The University of Illinois Extension recommends an intake ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats of 2:1 to 4:1. Still, it’s important to know how much of each type of fat to eat daily. The Mayo Clinic provides this information in a user-friendly table.
Saturated fat and trans fat—White Walkers and wildlings that will mess you up
Commonly referred to as solid fats because they’re solid at room temperature, these frightening fats can wage war on your heart by infiltrating your bloodstream and clogging up your arteries.
- Saturated fats
Saturated fats raise blood cholesterol levels in your body, specifically LDL, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Harvard Medical School notes, “A handful of recent reports have muddied the link between saturated fat and heart disease.
More analysis on Saturated fats
One meta-analysis of 21 studies said that there was not enough evidence to conclude that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease, but that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat may indeed reduce risk of heart disease”. Additionally they mention, “Two other major studies narrowed the prescription slightly, concluding that replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fats like vegetable oils or high-fiber carbohydrates is the best bet for reducing the risk of heart disease, but replacing saturated fat with highly processed carbohydrates could do the opposite.” Beware, however, of processed vegetable oils and to not exceed the recommended ratios and daily intake of different types of fat.
More information to this regard are found in the sections that follow.
Saturated fats are in cows and poultry, full-fat dairy products, and many commercially prepared baked goods.
- Trans fats
- Most of the trans fats we consume are a result of the food processing method called hydrogenation. All foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils contain manufactured transaturated fats. According to the
- , partially hydrogenated trans fats can increase unhealthy LDL cholesterol and lower high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol).
In the United States food labels can state a food has 0 grams of trans fat if there is less than 0.5 grams of trans fat in a serving. So, take a quick look at the ingredients; and if “partially hydrogenated” is anywhere to be seen, put the bag down and slowly back away. Those trace amounts of artificial trans fats add up fast.
Naturally-occurring trans fats (produced in the gut of some animals and found in foods made from said animals) show up in small amounts in milk and meat products. According to the American Heart Association, “There have not been sufficient studies to determine whether these naturally occurring trans fats have the same bad effects on cholesterol levels as trans fats that have been industrially manufactured.” Proceed with caution when it comes to trans fats. They’re dangerous and there’s still much more to learn.
Manufactured trans fats can be found in packaged foods with “partially hydrogenated” on the nutrition label (chips, cookies, frozen dinners, packaged pudding, nondairy creamers, etc.).They also may be found in anything fried (french fries, onion rings, mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, fried chicken, donuts, etc.), margarine, shortening, ice cream, microwave popcorn, and processed meat sticks (beef jerky), to name a few food sources.
How our bodies create and burn fat—the struggle is real in Westeros
You know the story. Winter is coming. Your body wants to keep warm and insulated. Depending on what and how much you’re eating, your body may produce and store fat. If how stuff works interest you, read this very detailed description of how the human body breaks down foods and stores fat. On the other hand, if your brain doesn’t feel like burning all those calories to read an entire article, just know that eating things the body has trouble breaking down (unnatural or highly processed items that somehow pass as “food”) and eating more than needed to keep your body functioning are two powerful opponents when it comes to maintaining a healthy body fat percentage.
Over winter and ready to shed an extra layer of fat? Burning fat requires not only keeping an eye on what you’re eating. But also making sure you’re exercising so your body uses up the energy stored in that unwanted fat. Again, for you information hungry hounds, here is a complete explanation of how we burn fat.
Tips to win the battle and achieve a healthy balance
According to Sports Nutrition, Second Edition, the recommendation for females is to maintain 16-30% body fat and males maintain 11-20%. And if you’re an athlete, depending on your sport of choice, recommended body fat percentages range from 5-20% for males and 10-28% for females. Take a look at this chart to see percentages broken down by sport.
Since fat plays a key role in keeping you energized and insulated (without it you’d have no core body temperature and your vital organs would be vulnerable to outside impact), it’s important to maintain enough of it to stay healthy. Dropping below the recommended range is dangerous for these reasons, as is exceeding the high end of the scale. If you’re hauling around too much body fat, your risk for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and certain cancers increases.
To keep your body balanced with the ideal amount of fat, take Michael Pollan’s advice:
- Eat food.
- Not too
- Mostly plants.
We’d add…and exercise regularly. Especially if you have some extra fat that you’d like to say goodbye to. Go ahead, send it north of the Wall!