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What Are Good Fats - Low Carbohydrate High Protein Diets

Updated on May 7, 2011

We all need fats, they are essential for life. They are required to make essential hormones, to produce the outer sheaths of our nerve cells and to help build and maintain the cells of our body. Also, some essential vitamins are fat-soluble, so we need fat to absorb them efficiently.

Fats also play an important role in our digestion by slowing down the absorption process in the intestine so preventing the highs and lows of blood sugar levels produced by the combination of carbohydrates and insulin. This process also prevents excessive mood fluctuations due to blood sugar swings. By slowing the digestive system, fat prevents the pangs of hunger felt within hours after a carbohydrate based meal.

Fats help to make us feel "satisfied" after a meal. They also switch off our hunger sense so stopping us from over-eating. The only time we over-eat fats is when they are combined with carbohydrates (sugars and starches) and this combination is what makes us increase our body fat, i.e. we get fat from eating processed fat.

So we need some essential fats in our diets to be healthy.

So Which Are The Good Fats We Need?

Good fats raise your High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) or "good cholesterol". One of the jobs of this High Density Lipoprotein is to grab your Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or "bad cholesterol" and conduct it to the liver where it can be broken down and excreted. This is very important in an age where so many are struggling to control their cholesterol and fight heart disease and obesity.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) Are "Very Good Fats"

These fats are found in vegetables, vegetable oils, tofu, fatty fish, avocados, olives and walnuts.

EFAs are long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids derived from linolenic (Omega-3), linoleic (Omega-6), and oleic (Omega-9) acids. These are necessary fats that our bodies cannot synthesize so must be obtained through our diet. Omega-9 is not strictly necessary because the body can manufacture this provided the other EFAs are present. Our bodies need EFAs to manufacture and repair cell membranes and to regulate body functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, blood clotting and fertility.

Sources of Omega-3, 6 and 9 include flaxseed oil (the highest linolenic content of any food), flaxseeds, hempseeds and oil, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, Brazil nuts, pistachio nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, anchovies, avocados, kale, spinach, mustard greens, canola oil, olive oil (extra virgin or virgin), olives, soybean oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and tuna. Meat protein, particularly chicken is also a good source but to a slightly lesser degree.

  • Note: Avoid refined and hydrogenated versions of these foods.

Replace hydrogenated fats like margarine, cholesterol-based fats such as butter, and the poly-saturated fats found in some cooking oils with healthy EFA based fats where possible. Extra virgin olive oil is an excellent substitute in most cases.

Monounsaturated Fats

These fats are found in items such as avocados, olives, olive oil, peanuts, peanut oil cashews, almonds, and canola vegetable oil. They have been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.

Saturated Fats

Found mainly in coconut oil, palm oil, eggs, butter, meat and other animal products these fats enhance the immune system, support liver function and are an essential component of every cell in our bodies. Contrary to popular belief, current research may show these fats may not be to blame for the high cholesterol linked to heart disease.

Balance Is The Key

So which are the good fats? All the fats discussed so far have a role to play in our diets, so they are all good fats, it's all about getting the right balance. Monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fats all play different but important roles in maintaining our health. It is important to get the balance between these fats right by eating from a array of food sources.

The Bad Fats - Trans Fats

Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (manufactured trans fats) found in highly processed foods are the bad guys. These fats have be shown to raise triglycerides and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.

To make the bad trans fats chemists use natural fats, heat them to extremely high temperatures and then add hydrogen. They are popular in the food industry because:

  • They are cheap.
  • They stop baked good from crumbling.
  • The have a significantly longer shelf life then natural fats.

Trans fats are in so many processed food products that a list is out of the question, all I can advise is read the product label very, very carefully. These fats turn up in some very strange places, such as jarred artichoke hearts, fried fast food products, diet foods and some low carb products.

If I Eat Fats Will I Get Fat?

On a low carbohydrate, high protein diet you will not get fat from eating the good fats. That will only happen if you also eat too many carbohydrates. By not eating carbohydrates the fat making process is, to a greater extent, switched off and the fats by themselves will not switch the fat making process on. What does this mean? It means you can eat more of the good fats without weight gain. In fact, contrary to common sense, eating these fats actually causes you body to mobilize your own excess body fat in the process. That's not to say you can make a pig of yourself on french fries and burgers (carbohydrates, trans-fats). Unfortunately lots of "fast foods" are still cooked in "trans fats" which, as discussed, are not good for your health. So please take care, we don't want to lose you sooner than mother nature dictates.


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