The Evolving Research on Dietary Fats: What You Need to Know

What are fats? Typically, when hearing the word “fat,” people may associate it with unhealthy processed foods, chemically infused products, or simply something that causes weight gain and organ issues. However, the world of fats is not as clear cut as it may seem. There are several good fats that actually help sustain a healthy lifestyle, while other nutritional fats must be taken in more controlled amounts.

Before diving into what is considered good fat and what is not, let’s take a look at what unsaturated fats are in their simplest scientific form. According to the Department of Nutrition at the University of California, Davis campus, “Fats are a subset of a class of nutrients called lipids, which also include phospholipids and sterols,” [1]. These classes create a cluster of molecules which come together to create a triglyceride. These fatty cells are found in the blood and stored in the fat cells, later released for energy by hormones [2]. However, like in anything we consume, everything must be at a moderated amount. If the body consumes too many triglycerides it can result in a higher risk of heart disease. The lower the level of triglycerides the healthier the body, but the human system is still in need of nutritious fats to function properly, and it is advised by many to avoid eating extremely low levels of fat just for the purpose of maintaining or trying to achieve a slim figure [3].

Most of the fat required is already produced by the body, but there are some fats it cannot create, and these types of fats are obtained through specific foods. These acquired fats are called “essential” fats because they’re essential for the body to function. These fats are then broken down into two categories: monosaturated fats and polysaturated fats.

Essential fats like omega-3 (found in foods like fish and flax seed) and omega-6 (found in foods like nuts, seeds, and various oils) fall under the polysaturated fats that help absorb vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K, and help keep the skin young and healthy. Another beneficial side effect of consuming an appropriate amount of essential fats like omega-3s is promoting and maintain good heart health. Furthermore, a medically reviewed article written by Caitlin Geng on Medical News Today stated, “omega-3 fatty acids may also help prevent bowel disease, asthma, and some mental health conditions,” [4].

Monosaturated fats, found in plant oils, can help lower levels of LDL (low density lipoprotein) cholesterol [3]. Monosaturated fats are heavily found in olive, peanut, and canola oils, avocados, nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans, and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds [5]. Although canola oil is higher in monounsaturated fat, it’s also an excellent source of polyunsaturated fat [5]. Fats also can simply add flavor to foods and keep the body satisfied longer after a meal [3]. These fats are better alternatives to saturated fats, often referred to as “trans fats,” which are found in processed foods or foods with higher fat content, like various fattier meats and wheat products [6]. Although red meat is a wonderful source of protein, it needs to be consumed in smaller amounts in a balanced diet because of its higher fat content.

As stated earlier, these fats seem clear cut in the do’s and don’ts of dieting but not as clear a