What are Healthy Fats: Benefits of Seeds and oils

what are healthy fats

Luckily, the fat debate is balancing out in recent years and we’re appreciating more and more the value of healthy fats. It’s been a long road and we’ve been fat phobic for too long missing out on the fantastic benefits and flavours of fat! Well no more! And thankfully so. But and there is a slight but when it comes to fat – the quality matters. And while on the one hand we are all well aware of the fat found in nuts, we miss out on so much nutrition by forgetting about seeds! This post will talk you through it all – the nutrients found in seeds (spotlighting sunflower seeds), vegetable & seed oils and finally what are healthy fats.

Digestion & Functions of fats:

Fats are the most concentrated form of energy at 9 kcal per gram and consequently also very satiating.  Protein and carbohydrates are 4 kcals by comparison. When you consume fat in food, your body breaks it down into small units called fatty acids. In fact, it is bile that has a key role to play here as it contains enzymes to help with this breakdown in the small intestine.

In our body these fatty acids have a number of key roles. A few important ones to note:

  • Some vitamins are water soluble and some fat soluble. Fatty acids are crucial to transport fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and antioxidants around the body to the cells.

  • Fat is an energy source for the body. We can only store about 500g of glycogen, form of carbohydrates, in the body (less than 90 minutes of exercise) but we have over 20-30k calories worth of fat on our body to pull energy from.

  • Fats are a key component in hormone production. Did you know all your steroid hormones (oestrogen, cortisol, testosterone etc) are made from cholesterol?

  • Fats provide us with essential fatty acids that the body can’t make: Omega 3 and Omega 6. The term essential means we cannot make it ourselves and need to consume it in our diet.

what are healthy fats

What are healthy fats?

For your own reference, fats are classified according to two different things; their chain length and their saturation. We won’t get into it but you might be familiar with the terms:

  • Chain length: short, medium and long chain fatty acids

  • Saturation: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated fatty acids

You might have seen the various media scandals around saturated fat being bad for the heart but the truth is we need a variety of fats in our diet daily. This is available to us free in nature; nuts, seeds, avocado, vegetable & seed oils, oily large and small fish, algae, meat and so on. Of course our intake will depend on our dietary choices. As a raw vegan, our founder Asa looks only to plant derived sources.

‘Healthy fats’ cover a few different things:

  • The quality of the source

  • The quality of the processing to make the ingredient into an oil

  • The essential fatty acids

[1] It all starts at the source so no matter your diet preference, always be weary of where your fat is coming from. If you eat meat or fish, this means looking to grass fed or wild sources at all times. Similarly for plants, sourcing from organic local producers where possible. The key reason is that fat is a storage zone for toxins because it’s a safe space. So if you buy poor quality produce, you aren’t getting the maximum bang for your buck While it’s not to say that these toxins are going to kill you, but of course if you’re consuming fat for a nutritional purpose, you want it to be the best quality possible!

[2] The quality of the process – You would be surprised to learn how difficult it is to turn a seed into an oil. Oil producers look to making a stable oil that will not discolour or go rancid in clear bottles. This involves a multi-stage process of mechanical pressing, heating, solvent extraction, filtering, bleaching, deodorising, and the addition of preservatives. Given that minerals, enzymes and vitamins are very sensitive to heat, light and air, it’s safe to say that the resulting oil is pretty much just ‘calories’.

Even worse are the margarines, shortening fats we see on the shelf etc. The goal is to turn cheap, refined, liquid oil into a product that is solid at room temperature and to do this involves changing the molecular structure of the fatty acids in the oil. These are called transfats and they can pose health risk to the body:

  • Raise total and ‘bad’ blood cholesterol levels

  • Create inflammation

  • Lower immunity

Is there a way around this? Look for oils that are ‘raw’ ‘unpasteurised’ and ‘cold pressed’. Try to avoid cooking with any seed oils. By rule of thumb, it’s better to work of the fats that are solid at room temperature as they are better equipped to handle heat. Use oils for cold use mostly like for example on salads or a smoothie.

[3] The two fatty acids we can’t make ar linoleic (omega 6) and linolenic acid (omega 3). Essential fats’ are part of brain structure and function, and are also needed to produce hormone-like substances (prostaglandins) that help regulate blood pressure and maintain the immune response, among many other functions. We simply cannot survive without essential fats and we need to get them from out diet. While omega 3 is found in large quantities in oily fish, it is possible to also source a different kind of fat in plant based food called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). The body can then convert this ALA into omega 3. Sources of plant based ALA include – flaxseeds and flaxseed oil, canola (rapeseed) oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, tofu and walnuts.

what are healthy fats

Why seeds?

We’re pretty in tune with the benefits of nuts. Not only that but they make for a great snack on the go; Pip N’Nut have some fantastic nut butters and you can even buy individual sachets to eat on the run! Jake’s boost is another that we like very much. But what about seeds? Well these little nuggets might not look like much but they seriously make up for it on the inside. Here are just few benefits of sunflower seeds:

  • A rich source of mono and polyunsaturated fat considered good for lowering cholesterol

  • A source of copper, zinc, iron and fiber

  • A rich source of vitamin E: the antioxidant that fights free radical damage

  • A source of selenium which works with vitamin E to support against free radical damage and supports your thyroid.

  • A source of B vitamins responsible for energy production!

  • A great support for preventing osteoporosis, bone loss, and muscle cramps. Most of us are deficient in magnesium, a key mineral that supports calcium/potassium ratio within cells. Magnesium helps to reduce migraine headaches, constipation, chronic fatigue, and even mood disorders like depression and anxiety (source)

  • A source of vegan friendly protein! An ounce of sunflower seeds contains 12 percent of the daily value of protein, says the National Sunflower Association (source).

We wrote more about this in a previous post on the benefits of seeds.

Other seeds to try: pumpkin, flax seeds, chia seeds, Pomegranate Seeds, Quinoa, hemp seeds.

What are healthy fats; So What?

We’ve focused a lot of time on the explanation about what are healthy fats alongside some benefits of seeds. Now it’s the ‘so what’? So, the goal is to include a variety of fats in your diet daily. Here’s a list of ideas! Aim for 1-2 tbsp with each meal.

  • Nuts

  • Seeds – sunflower, chia, flax

  • Flaxseed oil

  • Avocado

  • Avocado oil

  • Rapeseed oil

 

Lyda Borgsteijn

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