Figuring Out Fats

By Megan Roessler | Illustration by Ann Christianson

The world of nutrition can be a tricky place to navigate, especially around the holidays. Even more so when you’re trying to consider the amount and type of fat you consume.

Katy Wallace, a Madison naturopathic doctor and nutrition consultant with a background in ecology, explains that there are two main types of fats: saturated and unsaturated. “Found naturally,” she says, “both are really healthy.” Natural sources of healthy fats include foods like olives, walnuts, flaxseed and grassfed meats.

It’s when fats and oils become processed and hydrogenated that we get into trouble. The problem with manufactured fats—those found in hydrogenated oils such as margarine or highly processed snack food—is that our bodies can’t produce the enzyme that breaks them down. “This can accelerate aging and disease,” says Wallace.

Similarly, consuming too much Omega-6, a fatty acid found in grains and seeds, can lead to inflammation in the cardiovascular system. To balance this, Wallace says to pay attention to the amount of grains or grain-fed meat that you’re eating, and to balance these with foods rich in Omega-3 such as olives, flaxseed and seafood.

Wallace describes these Omega-3’s as anti-inflammatory, adding that, “generally they will help with pain relief such as joint pain, as well as help lower unhealthy cholesterol levels that reflect inflammation.”

If we know what to look for, it’s fairly easy to apply these tricks to our daily routines. At the market or grocery store, choose foods like olive oil, walnuts, sardines or salmon, and meats and dairy from grass-fed animals.

When out to eat, Wallace recommends keeping an eye out for these same things on the menu. “In Madison we’re lucky,” she says, “We can typically go to a restaurant and find wild and grass-fed proteins.”

Lastly, at parties and other social gatherings where things can get a bit less predictable, she recommends keeping it simple with foods like nuts, quality cheeses, olives, fresh fruits and vegetables, and natural meats for happy and healthy snacking.

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