For years, we have accepted the falsehood that fat leads to weight gain; but not all fats are created equal. Travis Zipper would argue that there are good and bad fats, and half the battle is knowing the difference between the tow.
As the Founder of the Wellfitz Mentorship, Travis Zipper works in a functional and conventional medicine setting, helping patients with leaky gut, bacterial infections, low testosterone, and a host of other conditions.
Travis Zipper believes in the power of food as both fuel and medicine and is here to outline exactly what healthy fats are, how they can benefit your overall health, and several excellent sources.
How Did the War on Fat Begin?
Travis Zipper explains that the low-fat ideology captured the minds and hearts of the American medical and diet culture in the 1980s and 1990s. Supported by poorly run scientific studies, promoted by the federal government, food industry, and local media, low fat diets slowly became the dominant dietary belief. In the 1940s, coronary heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States, encouraging scientists and physicians to identify the cause.
During this time, the American Heart Association and Ancel Keys, a key player in the push for a low-fat diet ideology, associated dietary fat with coronary heart disease. The rest was history. Of course, the levels of heart disease and diabetes in America are now higher than they have ever been, and this is due in part to the consumption of highly refined sugar and grains, and not dietary fat.
Unsaturated and Saturated Fats
So, where did this confusion come from? There are various types of fat, and the types of fats you consume (and with what) are what have a major impact on your body. Travis Zipper explains that the best type of fats to consume are unsaturated and saturated fats. Unsaturated fat can be broken down into two categories: polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) and monounsaturated fats (MUFAs).
PUFAs can decrease bad cholesterol (LDL) while also increasing the good cholesterol (HDL). PUFAs also often contain healthy omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that promote low blood sugar and a healthy brain. MUFAs have many of the same benefits. And then there is saturated fat. Saturated fats that come from healthy raised animals and coconut products also have many of the same benefits as unsaturated fats, including increasing the amount of HDL (good cholesterol) in your body, lowering your risk of cardiovascular diseases, and leaving you feeling fuller for longer.
So, what types of fats that should be avoided? Travis Zipper identifies processed trans fats and vegetable oils as the most problematic.
Trans fats are typically used as a cheap substitute for natural, shelf-stable saturated fats. Research has shown that processed trans fats may be linked to metabolic diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes, inflammation, cancer, and heart disease. Additionally, Travis Zipper explains that vegetable oils contain a lot of omega-6 fatty acids, which, when not balanced with sufficient omega-3s, can result in many negative health effects. They are also easily oxidized, which can cause the release of damaging free radicals. For these reasons, Travis Zipper suggests avoiding corn oil, canola oil, grapeseed oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, margarine, and vegetable shortening.
If you avoid trans fats and vegetable oils, the benefits of eating healthy fats can be almost endless. Dietary fat is found in both animals and plants, and although its primary function is to provide your body with energy, it plays several other important roles: helping you absorb fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K, regulating inflammation and immunity, improving cognitive function (your brain is 60% fat, after all), maintaining the health of your cells including skin and hair cells, and helping you feel full and satisfied.
There are dozens of healthy fat options that you can start incorporating into your diet, and each one of them has their own set of benefits. The first food on that list that Travis Zipper suggests is avocado. The avocado is very different from other fruits, as instead of being loaded with carbs, it is actually loaded with fiber and fat. Roughly 77% of avocados are made of fat, making them higher in fat than most animal sources. The main fatty acid in avocados is a monounsaturated fat called oleic acid which has various health benefits. Additionally, avocados even have 40% more potassium than bananas, a typically high potassium food.
One of the easiest additional ways to consume healthy fats is through eggs. Travis Zipper explains that whole eggs are loaded with vitamins and minerals and contain a little bit of almost every nutrient we need to thrive. They also contain powerful antioxidants that protect the eyes, and they also contain lots of choline, a brain nutrient that 90% of population does not get enough of. Whole eggs are one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Another great way to consume a healthy balance of omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids is through fish. Fatty fish, including salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, and herring, are all loaded with heart healthy omega-3s. Studies have shown that people who eat fish tend to be healthier, with a lower risk of heart disease, depression, dementia, and all sorts of common diseases.
If you do not eat animal products, you might consider eating chia seeds as a source of fat. An ounce of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, and by calories, are 80% fat. Chia seeds have numerous other health benefits, including lowering blood pressure and having quite a few anti-inflammatory effects. In addition to being loaded with fiber and fat, chia seeds are also packed with nutrients.
When it comes to cooking, some fats choices are going to be better than others when cooking at high temperatures. Saturated fats such as butter, ghee, coconut oil, and lard are your best options for frying, as they don’t oxidize when reaching high temperatures, as the less stable polyunsaturated fats in vegetable and seed oils do. When it comes to extra virgin olive oil, only use it at lower temperatures to ensure you do not oxidize the fats, as doing so releases damaging free radicals.
Lastly, Travis Zipper explains that high-fat foods, although beneficial to your health, tend to have higher calories than most other foods, like carbs and protein. For example, a standard tablespoon of coconut oil is 150 calories and 15 grams of fat. While you want to add healthy fats to your diet, it is still important to ensure you do not over-consume them in terms of calories.