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Fats 101: The good, the bad and the average

Remember the days when we were told to look for the ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free’ products because they were ‘better’ for us? Thank goodness those days are over. While fats have been demonised in the past, we now know that they’re actually an essential macronutrient and a beneficial part of a nutritionally balanced diet. Fats have a role in creating our cell structure and are important for the health of our brain, skin and heart. The right types of fats even have anti-inflammatory properties. So, fats aren’t something we should cut from our diet, instead we can benefit from incorporating a healthy fat in every meal, and even our snacks. But what’s the difference between a healthy fat and an unhealthy one? That’s exactly what we’re going to dive into in this blog post, with plenty of examples of products containing healthy fats.

The different types of fats include unsaturated fats, saturated fats and trans fats. Unsaturated fats fall under the categories of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. These are the fats that we want to incorporate plenty of into our diet. Sources of these include oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocado and extra-virgin olive oil.

Saturated fats are the ones that have received the harshest criticism over time. However, a moderate amount of saturated fats, from real food sources, are not an issue when consumed as part of a healthy and balanced diet. There is concern around saturated fats and cholesterol levels, but there’s more to it than that. Without giving you a full science lesson, cholesterol becomes an issue when there is inflammation within the body. When we shift towards a real food way of eating, we’re removing many of the pro-inflammatory foods to begin with.

The real fats to be worried about are trans fats. These types of fats can be highly inflammatory and are present in hydrogenated oils. These are the ones that will negatively impact our cholesterol levels and they’re something we should avoid entirely.

 

What makes it difficult to find products with healthy fats in the supermarket?

The sad reality is that many products in the supermarket contain vegetable oils. One of the reasons for this is because they’re easily accessible and cheap for brands to use in the food production process. Unfortunately for us, they’re also nasty and do not support our health and wellness goals. Vegetable oils include canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, soybean oil, and more. Ideally, we want to avoid products that contain any of these, which are a large portion of the products lining the supermarket shelves.

Aside from the extensive processing that vegetable oils go through, they’re also an incredibly high source of omega-6 fatty acids. Now, omega-6 itself isn’t an issue, in fact it’s an ‘essential’ fatty acid that we need to get through our diet. However, the modern diet contains too much omega-6 in relation to our omega-3 intake. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is around 4:1. Unfortunately these days, the average diet puts us at a ratio closer to 16:1.

 

Qualities of a product with healthy fats:

Products containing healthy fats will be made up of real foods. Some healthy fat ingredients that we like to see on an ingredients list include nuts, seeds, nut or seed butters, avocado, extra-virgin olive oil and oily fish like sardines, salmon, anchovies, mackerel, etc.

 

What are some of the best products with healthy fats?

There are plenty of products available that are packed full of healthy fats. From the real food ingredient itself, to products containing these healthy fat ingredients, there’s no shortage of options. Here are some we’re loving:

 

MMMore Peanut Butter Pantry Box

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: 

Classic Crunch: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (94.8%), Organic Coconut Oil, Celtic Sea Salt

Salted Caramel: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (54%), Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Coconut Oil, Celtic Sea Salt (0.6%)

Coconut: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (40%), Organic Coconut (28%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Brown Rice Syrup

Maple: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (64.5%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Maple Syrup (16.1%)

Chocolate: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (65%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Cacao Powder (2.6%)

Chilli Chocolate: Australian Dry Roasted Peanuts (63%), Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Brown Rice Syrup, Organic Cacao Powder (2.5%), Organic Chilli (0.4%)

Review: By GoodnessMe Nutritionist Malissa F.

A GREAT SOURCE OF WHOLESOME HEALTHY FATS

Peanut butter is a favourite of mine. It is a great source of healthy fat that can be easily added into your diet on the daily. Peanut butter is not only just great for the body but a natural peanut butter is also super tasty. This MMMore Peanut Butter Party Box is complete with all the peanut butter flavours you could want meaning you will never get sick of adding in a little bit of peanut butter into your meal plan every single day.

 

Sol Organics Ghee

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: 100% Certified Organic Unsalted Butter.

Review: By GoodnessMe Nutritionist Shelley M.

CLARIFIED FORM OF BUTTER, CONTAINING NO LACTOSE

Ghee is an absolute obsession of mine. It is a clarified form of butter, containing no lactose. It is an amazing source of omega 3 fatty acids and has been used for centuries to improve the absorption ability of the small intestines and decreases the acidic pH of our gastrointestinal tract. According to some, the butyric acid in combination with particular vitamins such as A, D, E, and K helps to boost immunity, keeps your hair and skin healthy, lubricates joints and strengthens our bones.

Ghee is great for cooking because of the high smoke point and delicious in coffee. Yep add 1 teaspoon to your coffee for creamy goodness. I personally opt for Sol Organics Organic ghee because it ensures no chemicals such as pesticides, antibiotics and hormones have accumulate in the fat.

 

2Die4 Activated Organic Vegan Nut Mix

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Ingredients: Organic Almonds, Organic Walnuts, Organic Pecans, Organic Cashews, Organic Brazil Nuts, Organic Hazelnuts, Organic Pistachios, Filtered Water, Raw Australian Sea Salt.

Review: By GoodnessMe Nutritionist Shahna S.

GET THE FULL BENEFITS

Not only are the nuts in this 2Die4 mix organic, they're also activated meaning you're likely to get even more of the nutritional benefits from them!

The process of activating nuts involves soaking them (to remove any anti-nutrients like phytic acid) then dehydrating them. Anti-nutrients can decrease the absorption of the nutrients contained within the foods, so by removing them you're increasing the bioavailability of the nutrients inside. In other words, you get more of the benefits!

This is a great mix of different nuts, meaning you get different benefits and nutrients from each different one. It's a big tick of approval from me!

 

2Die4 Activated Organic Walnuts

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Organic Walnuts, Fresh Biodynamic Whey, Filtered Water, Raw Australian Sea Salt.

Review: By GoodnessMe Nutritionist Malissa F.

NUTRITIOUS HIGH PROTEIN SNACK

Walnuts are always a go-to nut and can be added to so many dishes and prepared in many different ways which can take the nutritional content of your meals to the next level! These 2Die4 Activated Organic Walnuts Activated with Fresh Whey are lightly salted making them so tasty as well as being coated in fresh whey. This increases the protein content of this snack and makes them extra nutritious.

The nuts themselves are organic and sustainably sourced! Walnuts contain healthy fats, fibre, protein, magnesium, vitamin E and are known for their benefits in weight stabilisation.

 

The Seed Cycle Brownie Mix

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Organic Ground Pumpkin Seeds, Organic Ground Flaxseeds, Rapadura Sugar, Almond Meal, Raw Cacao, Baking Powder, Sea Salt.

 

Low Carb Life Lemonlicious Slice

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Gluten & Grain Free Flour Blend (Almond Meal, Lupin Flour, Coconut Flour, Tapioca Flour), Non GMO Erythritol, Monk Fruit Extract.

 

What to look for on the nutritional panel:

Let’s dive deeper into the nutritional panel and ingredients list using an example of a product that’s packed full of healthy fats:

 

2Die4 Activated Organic Almonds

 GoodnessMe

The nutrition panel lists out some of the macronutrients found within the product. As fats are the focal topic here, we can jump straight to the ‘Fat, total’ column. By looking at the fats per 100 grams we can see that this product is 47.8% fat. The breakdown of fats on a nutrition panel isn’t extensive, with it only showing the saturated fats and not the polyunsaturated or monounsaturated. For this reason, the most important thing to look at is where the fats are coming from. This is where the ingredients list comes in.

Reading the ingredients list on a product with healthy fats is easy. What we do is check for real food ingredients and ensure the fats they’re using are the ones that support our health. Using this example, we can see that almonds are the main ingredient, which is definitely what we would consider a healthy source of fat.

 

What else should you consider when choosing a product full of healthy fats?

Something else that is important to factor in when consuming healthy fats is that if you are following a plant based or vegan diet, you want to be incorporating plenty of plant sources of omega-3. While we don’t get the essential fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from plant foods, we can get ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which can then be converted into EPA and DHA. Foods that contain ALA include walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds. Be sure to include these ingredients, or products containing these ingredients, if that’s the case.

 

How to spot hidden ingredients in a fat containing product:

When we see the term ‘vegetable oil’ on an ingredients list, we can consider this hiding ingredients. This is because they haven’t specified the source of these oils. When oils are processed, they undergo cleaning, pressing, extraction, refining and then packaging. There are also chemicals used in the process, including solvents for extraction and acids during the bleaching. While the final product is a ‘vegetable oil’ the process and ingredients required to produce them certainly doesn’t meet our real food or chemical free standard.

 

What are trans fats and why should we avoid them?

Trans fats, also known as trans-fatty acids, are the most detrimental type of fat. They can wreak havoc on our cholesterol levels by increasing ‘bad’ cholesterol and decreasing the ‘good’ cholesterol. Consuming trans fats can also increase our risk of heart problems and cardiovascular disease.

Trans fats are formed by hydrogenating vegetable oils, which simply means adding hydrogen to them. The reason hydrogen is added to vegetable oils is to make them solid at room temperature. Products that contain trans fats include margarine, vegetable oil / olive oil spreads, microwave popcorn, fried foods, frozen pizza and commercial sweets like cakes, doughnuts and cookies.

 

What does an unhealthy product containing fats look like?

 

Poppin Microwave Popcorn Cheese Flavour

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Popping corn (70%), Vegetable Oils [contain antioxidant (307b, 304)], Salt, Natural Flavours (contain milk), flavour enhancers (621, 635), Food Acids (270, 327), Onion Powder, Colour (Paprika Extract)

 

Looking at this product the first red flag is that it contains trans fats. It may be less than 0.1g, but we don’t want to see any trans fats at all in our food. The second red flag is the vegetable oils it contains, remember that vegetable oils are highly refined and can be pro-inflammatory. It doesn’t stop there though, this example also contains two flavour enhancers, which can be addictive and lead to overeating, as well as two food acids, neither of which are real foods.

 

Our top 3 products containing unhealthy fats to avoid and why:

I have no doubt that I could come up with a list of 300 products to avoid, but let’s take a look at 3 of the main culprits…

 

Olive Grove Light Spread

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Vegetable oils 55% (containing 18% olive oil), water, salt, emulsifiers [322 (from soy), 471], milk solids, preservative (202), food acid (270), flavour, colour (160a), vitamins A & D.

While I’ve chosen to highlight this particular product, any margarine or similar spread tends to be a big no-no. The main reason for this is because of the trans fats that hydrogenated oils contain. However, this product also has a layer of deceit… It’s easy to be fooled into thinking it’s a healthy option because it’s made of olive oil, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. We can see that the product is only 18% olive oil and the olive oil that they’ve used isn’t extra-virgin, which is the healthiest option. Regardless, when olive oil is hydrogenated, it still contains trans fats and therefore we should only ever use it in its liquid form.

That aside, this product also has emulsifiers, a preservative, a food acid and artificial colours and flavours. Overall, it’s highly refined and far from a real food option.

 

Aunty Kath’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Biscuit Flour (Wheat), Caster Sugar, Choc Chip (13.8%) [Sugar, Cocoa Mass, Cocoa Butter, Emulsifier (Soy, 322)], Water, Butter Salted (Milk), Shortening (Canola and Palm Oil), Margarine [Vegetable Fats and Oils, Water, Salt, Emulsifier (Soy), Milk Solids, Acidity Regulator (331, 330), Antioxidant (Soy), Flavours, Colour (160a)], Baking Powder (Wheat), Salt, Bicarbonate Soda, Vanilla Flavouring.

It's probably no surprise that store-bought cookie dough made it on this list. The long ingredients list and numbers it contains is already a warning that this isn’t a healthy product.

In the fat department, this product contains shortening from canola and palm oil, as well as margarine, all of which contain trans fats and have undergone high levels of processing. This product actually doesn’t have the trans fats column listed on the nutrition panel. This means we can’t even see how much it contains, but we do know that it would be in there.

The product isn’t just bad because of the unhealthy fats it contains, it also has two types of sugar, bringing it to 32.9% sugar. That’s one third sugar! Additionally, they use artificial flavours, colours, acidity regulators and an emulsifier.

 

Krispy Kreme Original Glazed Doughnuts

GoodnessMe

Ingredients: Doughnut (73%) (Wheat Flour, Sugar, Vegetable Shortenings (Contains Soy), Water, Salt, Wheat Gluten, Yeast, Acidity Regulator (341), Emulsifier (471-Soy), Yeast Dough Concentrate (Mineral Salts (516), Acidity Regulator (341,342), Antioxidant (300), Stabiliser (1100)), Preservative (263), Egg Powder, Milk Solids, Thickener (466)), Glaze (27%) (Sugar, Wheat Starch, Stabiliser (Mineral Salt (170), Thickeners (406), Emulsifiers (471-Soy, 491)), Flavours).

That’s right, Krispy Kremes contain unhealthy fats and they’re also unhealthy for many other reasons. The second ingredient is sugar, which is to be expected in a product like this but not a good thing. This is followed by vegetable shortenings, which are hydrogenated vegetable oils. I don’t have to say again why these are something to avoid. There’s also so many additives and numbers on the ingredients panel, many of which are artificial and/or highly refined. It’s an easy decision to put the Krispy Kreme down, especially now that we know they contain the worst type of fat that we could consume.

There we have it, the good, the bad and the average in the world of fat! If you take just one thing away from this article, let it be that fat isn’t something to be afraid of. Remember that it’s a necessary part of a balanced diet. However, it does matter which fats you’re choosing to consume. Refer back to this article anytime you need help deciphering which are the products containing healthy fats and which are the ones with unhealthy fats to avoid. When in doubt: eat real food and don’t consume margarine.

 

About the author: Shahna Sarpi is a qualified nutritionist that is on a mission to help people live a nourished life through real food and healthy habits. She loves simplifying food labels and helping people make healthier food choices. Shahna is passionate about spreading the real food message and supporting people in living a healthy life.

 

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