Are unsaturated fats good for you?
In a word: Yes.
It's taken over two decades of controversy, but the research has clearly proven just how good fat is for you. As with everything you choose to eat, it is the quality of the fats that's important. We've come to know that unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats like Omega 3 fats, actually help prevent disease.
There's been so much good quality research about fats that I could write a whole book (you'd probably get a bit bored though). One of my favorite studies came from Martha Morris and her colleagues (Arch N 2003;60:194-200). They studied 815 senior citizens to evaluate the role diet might play in Alzheimer's Disease. They found a clear correlation between diets high in saturated fat and trans fats and the risk of Alzheimer's Disease. The results showed almost double the risk of Alzheimer's dementia in those eating the most of these types of fats.
Interestingly, total fat didn't matter, but eating more fats from vegetable sources appeared to protect those in the study from developing Alzheimer's. Eating a higher proportion of polyunsaturated to saturated fats was also key to prevention. The research showed that consuming more unsaturated fats even blunts the risks of eating a higher percentage of trans fats.
There's thousands of studies that draw similar conclusions - not just about Alzheimer's but also heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It's not fat that is the issue, it is the type of fat. Getting more unsaturated fats, especially monounsaturated fats, helps prevent disease.
One of the best sources we have for unsaturated fats are nuts and seeds or their oils. While these ingredients do have a lot of calories, this may not be as much of an issue (good quality calories = good quality health). Even when using all the oil or nuts as they wanted, those in another study didn't gain any weight (Ann Int M 2006:45;1-11). During the research, two groups received either as much extra virgin olive oil or nuts as they wished. They were encouraged to use these high fat, high calorie ingredients as liberally as they wished. Interestingly, there was no weight gain with the users of nuts and olive oil proving once again that eating healthy is about the quality of the calories you consume.
The studies on Omega-3 fats from fish alone are the most compelling, showing that they both prevent and treat disease, and those fish with the highest levels of monounsaturated fats have been shown to be protective.
Good fats are quality calories and make for good eating. The best part is that there are a lot of great foods to choose from.
Here are the approximate amounts of Omega-3 fats per 120g serving. (120 g of fish/meat is about the size of a deck of cards and is just over four ounces.)
|Atlantic salmon||2,400 mg|
|smoked salmon||2000 mg|
|canned salmon||1,000 mg|
|rainbow trout||600 mg|
|canned tuna||290 mg|
|orange roughey||140 mg|
|oysters (12)||1,000 mg|
|blue mussel||500 mg|
Oils / Fats
Olive oil - This is the granddaddy of "healthy" fats and is well established as being really good for you. I measure all my fats and oils and use them carefully (especially because a lot of folks using Dr. Gourmet recipes are working at losing weight).
Get yourself a good quality extra virgin olive oil for making salads, dressings, sauces and the like. Use less expensive olive oils for cooking if you are on a budget. I like using an oil sprayer, because it lets me easily coat a pan or a food without using a lot of oil.
Grapeseed oil - This is as good as and may actually be better for you than olive oil. In some studies it has been shown to improve cholesterol profiles better than olive oil. Not quite the same range of flavors that you might find in all of the different olive oils on the market, but I love it because of this. I use it when I don't want a lot of bright fruity flavors in a recipe. It also has a very high "smoke point." This is the temperature at which an oil burns, and this makes grapeseed oil a great choice for searing and other high temperature cooking.
Canola oil - I don't use canola oil as much as I used to because I like grapeseed oil so much. It is, however, a great choice for cooking and baking (and it's less expensive).
Nuts / Seeds
Take your pick here. There is a mountain of research on almost every kind of nut or seed now, from walnuts to almonds to pistachios and beyond. While a lot of the studies have been funded by the growers, the conclusions are particularly compelling. I keep small amounts of nuts on hand for use in a lot of recipes. I generally purchase raw, unsalted nuts and seeds and keep them in plastic bags tightly closed.
Avocados are full of monounsaturated fat. While they are technically a fruit, these lovely guys are a great source of really healthy, great quality calories.
Olives, like avocados, are also a fruit and chock full of not just flavor but great quality monounsaturated fats.