Guide to understanding fats

There are many different types of fats. Some are ‘good’ for the immune system, others are neutral and some are ‘bad’. We need a balance of omega-3s and 6s, but many of us have too much omega-6 in our diet, which promotes inflammation. Here’s a useful list to help you figure out which is which.

‘Good’ fats: 

Polyunsaturated Fats (Omega 3) 

POLYUNSATURATED

Sources

Flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, some leafy green vegetables, walnuts, fish and fish oil.

  • Anti-inflammatory

  • Essential fatty acids (not made by our bodies, so must be sourced from food)

  • Keep cell membranes soft, pliable and resistant to degeneration 

Need to know…

  • Avoid cooking with omega 3 fats, instead add these oils to a dish after it’s cooked.

Polyunsaturated Fats (Omega 6) 

Sources

Sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, corn, soybeans and their respective oils, as well as non-refined soy products, grains, wheat germ and legumes.

  • Promotes inflammation BUT does resist degeneration 

  • Essential fatty-acids, keeping cell membranes soft and pliable 

  • Maintain a healthy ratio of essential fatty acids: no more than 4:1 omega 6 to omega 3

Need to know…

  • Avoid cooking with omega 6 oils, instead add these oils to a dish after it’s cooked. Whole foods containing omega 6 should employ a moist cooking technique whenever possible. (see below for cooking techniques)

  • Fish is best cooked using moist techniques, or by adding water or steam to a dry method. 

Polyunsaturated fats have the lowest melting points and are liquid at room temperature and in the fridge. Many are what we call essential fatty acids – they’re vital for normal bodily functions but cannot be manufactured in the body.


Neutral fats: 

Monounsaturated Fats (omega 9)

Sources

Olives, avocados, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, and their respective oils, as well as unrefined canola, sunflower and safflower (rapeseed) oils.

  • Considered neutral for the immune system

Need to know… 

  • Avocados, hazelnuts and macadamia nuts also contain high percentages of saturated fats, so they should be used in moderation. 

  • Oils containing omega 9 may be added during or after cooking, but take care when heating the oil and make sure to use moist cooking techniques. (See for cooking techniques)


‘Bad’ fats:

Saturated fats

Sources

Animal fats, dairy, and all tropical fats (palm and coconut).

  • Pro-inflammatory 

  • Often over-consumed in the Western diet and higher intake is associated with cardiovascular and other degenerative diseases, as well as worsening auto-immune conditions 

Need to know…

  • Avocados and many nuts are high in saturated fats and should be consumed in moderation 

Hydrogenated fats and Trans fats

Sources

Hydrogenated or partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils (margarine) and refined ‘cooking oils’, such as canola or corn oils.

  • Highly inflammatory 

  • These fats contain harmful by-products created during processing, which can lead to increased risk of disease and cardiovascular problems 

Saturated fat