Navigating the world of “fats” is confusing.
It’s so hard to know who to listen to and discern the truth without a lot of research.
In this Truth About Fats series, I’ve gone through some intense research on saturated fats and why they ARE good for you. And if they contribute to heart disease (which they don’t). Plus, I’ve explored the world of monounsaturated fats and why need them but we shouldn’t cook with them at high heats.
Now we get to the nitty gritty about polyunsaturated fats.
Unfortunately, these are the bad guys. Yet they aren’t typically presented as such.
There are some benefits from polyunsaturated fats, like omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. But we don’t need much of the fats to get those benefits. Most natural fat sources will contain a little bit of each type, giving our bodies the proper balance of fat nutrients needed.
Most of the time when you find an oil high in polyunsaturated fat, it will be a highly processed refined oil. These oils are so far from their natural state that the nutritional benefits are nearly void and they are something completely different. This is one reason why we quit drinking coffee creamer.
Let’s look more at the science of a polyunsaturated fat.
The Truth about Polyunsaturated Fats
In the molecular structure of polyunsaturated fats we find two or more exposed links. Unlike saturated fats where all carbon atoms are attached to hydrogen. Some of the carbon atoms making up the structure are exposed.
This is not a good thing. These two (or more) areas allow these fats to go rancid and attract free radicals very easily. (The free radicals attach to those exposed links.)
The exposed links in these oils prevent the molecules from ever fitting efficiently together. Polyunsaturated oils are always liquid, even in cold storage (like the refrigerator).
The two exposed links in polyunsaturated fats allows them to go rancid easily and should not be used for cooking. In fact, they should never be heated at all – not even at low temperatures! The molecular structure of polyunsaturated fats is so fragile that even cooking with them at low temperatures could potentially damage the bonds.
Yet, there are two essential fatty acids in polyunsaturated fats that our body cannot make and are needed for optimal health.
Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fats
Omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are those essential fatty acids. Because our bodies cannot make them we must get them from our food. They help with lowering inflammation, improving brain function, reducing risk of heart disease, and fetal development.
Yellow vegetable oils like canola oil, soybean oil, and sunflower oil are high in polyunsaturated fats. They are marketed by manufacturers to be “good” oils because they contain omega-3 and omega-6.
But these types of oils are highly processed, highly volatile and their “welcome home” sign for free-radicals is a concern. They offer no nutritional value and consuming these oils often disrupts the balance of nutrients inside our bodies.
It’s best to obtain these two essential fatty acids from natural food sources.
We can find the right balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in these food sources:
- wild game
- grass-fed beef
- wild caught fish
- walnuts (and other raw nuts)
- pumpkin seeds
- olive oil
- sesame oil
- even green leafy vegetables (lettuce, broccoli, kale, etc.).
As long as we’re consuming adequate amounts of these types of foods, there’s no reason to buy and consume foods with “added omegas.”
Always remember that ALL FATS contain all three types of fat – saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Even though we consume olive oil for its high level of oleic acid, there’s some polyunsaturated fat in it as well and it will be more than enough to help our body function properly!
Where to Find Food with Polyunsaturated Fats
With a well-rounded real food diet, you don’t need to go out of your way to find polyunsaturated fats. You can however, find quality food sources that will give you the right balance of nutrients to gain the benefits of essential fatty acids.
I have found lots of different ways to include flaxseed in our diets by adding it to different recipes. One of our favorites are these sweet and salty energy bites. Pumpkin seeds and walnuts are great to add to homemade granola or toppings on salads.
Since quality meat is a priority for my family, I make sure to buy grass-fed beef. We don’t eat very much of it so I typically get it at Aldi. But you can order it online at US Wellness Meats and Grass-fed Traditions. Buying in bulk from a local farmer will probably give you the best price.
Note: Determining food priorities and shopping for the rock bottom prices are two strategies I teach in Grocery Budget Bootcamp. Implementing these and the many other techniques found in GBB has helped me keep my grocery budget at $330/month!
The Type of Fat Matters
It would be easy to say that we should only eat “this” type of fat and completely avoid “that” type of fat, but the reality is that all fats are some sort of combination of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
However, the more a fat falls towards the saturated end of the scale and the more stable the fat is, the less likely the fat can harbor damaging free-radicals… and I think we can all agree that avoiding cell mutations in our bodies is a good thing.