We’ve been spending a lot of time lately talking about the importance of healthy fats. And that’s because they’re not only delicious, they are extremely nutritious! Some of our favorite fats that we use in our own kitchen are ghee, extra virgin olive oil, and avocado oil.
One of our Registered Dietitians, Sam, has even been talking about healthy fats—such as monounsaturated fats—often found in olives, avocados, some meats, and some nuts.
But what are the nutritional benefits of eating high-quality, healthy fats? Let’s take a look.
Great for Heart Health
Monounsaturated fats in particular are known for their positive impact on markers of cardiovascular health, including a reduction in triglycerides and LDL, reduced inflammation, increased HDL, decreased blood pressure, and decreased oxidized LDL. Whew! Quite the list. In fact, monounsaturated fats are the one place that virtually all health experts can agree (which is really, really rare).
But not just monounsaturated fats benefit heart health. Arachidonic acid (ARA), an omega-6 fat that can be found in certain animal foods (like chicken, eggs, and beef), acts as a vasodilator and in doing so, helps reduce blood pressure. Omega-3 fats like EPA and DHA are also beneficial for heart health, in part because they help decrease inflammation. A 2009 study showed that even moderate consumption of EPA and DHA decreased deaths from heart disease by 35%, which was an effect much greater than that seen with statin drug therapy. Wow!
And lest you think that saturated fat causes heart disease, we’re here to tell you that the evidence supporting that theory is weak (at best). Most of the research done on saturated fat has been epidemiological in nature, which is far from conclusive. When you look at the randomized controlled trials (or RCTs) done on saturated fat and heart disease, they show that diets including more saturated fat (like low carb diets) have beneficial effects on multiple markers of cardiovascular health, including decreased triglycerides, increased HDL, and decreased inflammation. Vindication, at last!
Essential for Brain Development
According to Dr. Amy Goss, professor at the University of Alabama, “Fats are essential for cell growth and turnover, and they aid brain growth and development, digestion and satiety, hormone production, and absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K…”
In particular, many scientists have studied the effects of monounsaturated fats versus polyunsaturated fats on the brain.
According to Psychology Today, “Essentially, a diet high in monounsaturated fats altered the basic chemistry and electrical properties of the brain in such a way that learning was enhanced, age-related cognitive decline slowed and the risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease was reduced.”
Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t monounsaturated fats, but polyunsaturated fats. But don’t let that fool you — it’s still extremely important to get a steady intake of fats that contain omega-3’s. Since our own bodies don’t make omega-3 fatty acids on their own, you can get them from eggs, milk, salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, and more. The main benefit of omega-3s? They’re great at reducing inflammation, protecting functions of the brain and nervous system, lowering cholesterol, and supporting heart health.
All in all, don’t be scared of healthy fats — monounsaturated and omega-3 fats in particular. When eaten as part of a balanced diet, these fats can actively benefit your heart, your mind, and your stomach.