Fat is Good
Our society has made us afraid of eating fat. It really took ground with the boom of the “fat-free” industry in the 80’s. The truth is, the right fats help promote health and well-being. It’s about choosing which fats to ingest. The mix of fats that you eat, rather than the total amount in your diet, is what matters most. The key is to eat more good fats and less bad fats.
Here’s the lowdown:
Fats contribute to the amount of cholesterol in your body. Very simply,
HDL cholesterol is the “good” kind of cholesterol found in your blood.
LDL cholesterol is the “bad” kind.
- Monounsaturated fats lower total cholesterol and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels, while increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
- Polyunsaturated fats lower triglycerides and fight inflammation.
- Saturated fats may raise your blood cholesterol if you eat too much.
- Trans fats are the worst types of fat. They raise your bad LDL cholesterol and lower the good HDL cholesterol.
Good Fats: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are good for you. They lower cholesterol, protect your heart, reduce the risk of disease and support overall health. Omega-3 fats are in this category and are essential to physical and emotional health. They are highly concentrated in the brain and research indicates they play a vital role in cognitive function (memory, problem-solving abilities, etc.) as well as elevating your mood, fighting fatigue and controlling your weight.
Examples of Good Fats Include:
- Monounsaturated (the best kind!): Olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, avocados, olives, nuts (almonds, macadamia, hazelnuts, pecans, cashews), peanut butter
- Polyunsaturated: Soybean oil, safflower oil, walnuts, sunflower, sesame and pumpkin seeds, flax seed, fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, sardines), tofu
Bad fats: Saturated fats have fallen into this category – however, saturated fats are ok if they are eaten in moderation. Coconut oil is a perfect example. The health benefits of coconut oil are immense, as discussed in previous posts.
Bad fats raise our cholesterol and put our bodies at risk of certain diseases. Trans fats should be completely avoided. Trans fats (hydrogenated oils) are the worst kind of fats and are used in the manufacturing of food to help it stay fresh longer.
- A trans fat is a normal fat molecule that has been twisted and deformed during a process called hydrogenation. During this process, liquid vegetable oil is heated and combined with hydrogen gas.
- No amount of trans fats is healthy. Trans fats contribute to major health problems, from heart disease to cancer.
Examples of Saturated Fats That Should Be Eaten in Moderation
High-fat cuts of meat (beef, lamb, pork), chicken with the skin, whole-fat dairy products (milk & cream), butter, cheese, ice cream, palm & coconut oil
Examples of Bad Trans Fats (the worst kind!):
Commercially-baked pastries, cookies, doughnuts, muffins, cakes, pizza dough, packaged snack foods (crackers, microwave popcorn, chips), stick margarine, semi-solid vegetable shortening, most pre-mixed products (cake mix, pancake mix, and chocolate drink mix), vegetable shortening, fried foods (French fries, fried chicken, chicken nuggets, breaded fish), candy bars
**Trick: How to tell a good fat vs. a bad fat: Trans fats and saturated fats tend to be solid at room temperature, while monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats tend to be liquid (think of olive or sunflower oil).
And no… fat-free foods are not healthier. Many fat-free foods are high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories.
General Guidelines For Choosing Healthy Fats
- Try to eliminate trans fats and limit fast food
- Limit saturated fats by cutting back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods and replacing them with low fat varieties (ie. use olive oil instead of butter, low-fat cheese vs. full fat, skim or 1% milk vs. whole milk)
- Eat omega-3 fats every day. Good sources include fish, walnuts, ground flax seeds, flax-seed oil, canola oil, and soybean oil.
- Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
- Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)
Lastly, enjoy eating fat. It is good for your health.